An attorney for Connections for the Homeless claims a city denial of the group’s request for a special use permit to continue to operate the Margarita Inn as a homeless shelter would likely violate federal law.
In an email included in materials submitted for next Wednesday’s Land Use Commission hearing, Donna Pugh, of Foley & Lardner LLP, says “people suffering from mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction may be considered a protected class under the Fair Housing Act” if their impairments substantially limit one or more major life activities.
The email adds that “64% of Margarita participants are qualified individuals” under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.”
Pugh says, “Many Margarita participants are recovering drug addicts or recovering alcoholics, or are living with physical or mental illness, whose disability has inhibited major life functions, to the extent that they have become homeless.”
“In addition, the majority of participants are people of color and fall into a protected class under the FHA on the basis of race,” she says, adding that “other protections under the U.S. Constitution are afforded to such participants, and, if an equal-protection claim were raised, a court would review such claims under strict scrutiny.”
A Department of Justice webpage summarizing the Fair Housing Act that Pugh cites in her email says, “Current users of illegal controlled substances, persons convicted for illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance, sex offenders, and juvenile offenders are not considered disabled under the Fair Housing Act, by virtue of that status.”
It also says, “The Fair Housing Act affords no protections to individuals with or without disabilities who present a direct threat to the persons or property of others. Determining whether someone poses such a direct threat must be made on an individualized basis, however, and cannot be based on general assumptions or speculation about the nature of a disability.”
Some neighbors have been objecting to Connections continued use of the former hotel since the group announced plans last March to buy the property. The neighbors claim the homeless shelter has added to police calls, drug dealing and panhandling problems in the neighborhood.
The special Land Use Commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday in the City Council chambers at the Civic Center.
The LUC will make a recommendation to the City Council on whether to issue the special use permit for the property at 1566 Oak Ave.,