US sues city of Joliet for housing discrimination

August 5, 2011 (JOLIET, Ill.)

"It's home. There's a lot of love around here. Everyone is family. Even though we're not related blood wise, we're all family. We all stick together," said resident Caprishyanna Mackins.

For nearly seven years, the City of Joliet has tried to condemn the federally-subsidized complex. Joliet's City Manager Thomas Thanas says they want low-income housing dispersed like Chicago. Thanas also says there are numerous city code violations, false fire alarms and safety concerns at Evergreen Terrace.

"We have multiple police calls, trying to respond to a lot of crime that has occurred and it occurs on a regular basis at Evergreen Terrace," Thanas said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office filed a lawsuit Thursday to stop Joliet from condemning the complex -- a relief from residents who have been fighting the same legal battle.

"This is long overdue. This is something we've been fighting for 4 to 5 years. It's something that needs to have the light shed on it," said resident Elvis Foster.

The U.S. Attorney's legal argument boils down to civil rights housing laws and race.

"Race is the primary issue. It's the reason we brought the lawsuit. As I mentioned, the residents of Evergreen Terrace -- 95 percent are African American. The city knows that the city has decided to condemn the property," said Patrick Johnson, assistant U.S. attorney.

"We're, frankly, very disappointed that the race card would be played in our case. What we're trying to do is provide quality housing to people, that's really our concern...much like the model Chicago has followed," Thanas said.

If forced to move, the debate is whether Joliet has other affordable housing or would residents there be pushed out of the city.

Some tenants say this is the step up they need.

"I'm trying to better suit myself and go to school and work…to better me and my son's life. But right now this is the best thing to do," said resident Celeste Keelen.

In the meantime, the property owners say they're gratified the government has stepped in.

"There is no place for discrimination, especially in city governmentt," said Tom Hecht, property owners' attorney.

For now, residents will still call Evergreen Terrace home.

"I love it," said Kelvyn Morens, resident.

The U.S Attorney's lawsuit will now make its way through the federal court system along with Joliet's condemnation and residents' housing complaints. Given that legal web, it will take months, if not the next year or two, to resolve.

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