In the early 1990s, the United States and a group of potential residents to a proposed home for homeless persons with mental illness and/or substance abuse problems, filed separate but related complaints in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the City of Philadelphia under the Fair Housing Act. In each case, the plaintiffs asked the Court to declare that the city's conduct constituted a violation of the Fair Housing Act by refusing to allow the use of a certain building to house chronically homeless people who were mentally ill or recovering substance abusers. More specifically, the plaintiffs argued that though the building in question did not have a rear yard, as required by the Zoning Code, the building was built prior to the passage of the Zoning Code and therefore should be granted nonconforming status, meaning that it could be used as a housing facility so long as it was not extended in any way so as to increase the nonconformity.
Project H.O.M.E., a Pennsylvania non-profit organization, provides a continuum of services to homeless men who are mentally ill and/or recovering substance abuser. After acquiring two adjacent buildings at 1515 and 1523 Fairmount Avenue, H.O.M.E. attempted to get permission from the city to use these buildings as "Single Room Occupancy" (SRO) facilities which would benefit many of the residents who had been doing well in the shared facilities. Not only would the new facility provide successful current residents with more privacy and control over their environment, but it would open up beds in the shared rooms for homeless individuals who needed them.
On August 9, 1990, H.O.M.E. applied for a zoning and use permit for 1515-1523 Fairmount Avenue. The Philadelphia Department of Licensing and Inspections granted their permit. Two civic associations that had publicly opposed the introduction into the neighborhood of a new residential facility for handicapped persons, appealed the grant of the permit, arguing that the building failed to meet the requirements The building at 1515 Fairmont did not meet the requirements but because it was built before 1932 when the Zoning Code took effect, it constituted a permitted nonconforming structure.
On July 5, 1991, the Zoning Board upheld the permit, reasoning that charitable organizations were exempt under the Zoning Code from having a rear yard requirement. The civil associations appealed to the Court of Common Pleas which reversed the Zoning Board's decision on December 19, 1991, arguing that there was no charitable exemption in the Code. Project H.O.M.E. then appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which reversed the decision of the Court of Common Pleas and reinstated the permit on November 10, 1992. On February 10, 1993, the civil associations filed a petition for allowing of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had not yet acted on that petition when the plaintiffs sued in federal district court.
On March 31, 1993, both the plaintiff United States and the defendant city of Philadelphia filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Oral arguments on these cross motions were set for November 3, 1993. After oral arguments, U.S. District Court Judge Louis H. Pollak issued an opinion stating that the plaintiffs had established a violation of the Fair Housing Act, and granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on November 19, 1993; he denied the city's motions for summary judgment. 838 F.Supp. 223.
The city appealed on November 22, 1993, and the judgment was affirmed. 30 F.3d 1488. The docket shows no further litigation. According to plaintiffs' counsel's website
, after the district court "ordered the City to issue the necessary permits, . . . the project was completed and thousands of homeless persons have found decent housing, training, and medical services." The case is closed.Kristen Sagar - 04/09/2009
Saeeda Joseph-Charles - 11/03/2016