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DOJ: Anoka's "crime-free" housing program violates ADA, Fair Housing Act

WCCO digital headlines: Afternoon of Nov. 9, 2023
WCCO digital headlines: Afternoon of Nov. 9, 2023 01:32

ANOKA, Minn. — The city of Anoka's "crime-free" housing program discriminates against people with mental health disabilities, an investigation by the Justice Department concluded Thursday.

The Justice Department says that the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act by "denying tenants with mental health disabilities an equal opportunity to receive emergency assistance."

The "crime-free" housing program has resulted in the city allegedly discouraging and preventing tenants with mental health disabilities and those associated with them from using the emergency response service.

Under the ordinance, Anoka can penalize landlords for "nuisance calls" to their properties. Nuisance calls are described as "repeated unfounded calls to the police." The city can also revoke the landlord's license if they do not pursue eviction after nuisance calls to their property.

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The investigation says that, due to the ordinance, tenants with mental health disabilities, or their families, would refrain from calling emergency services for help to avoid risking current or future housing.

"This scheme is cloaked as a public safety measure but in reality, it callously targets people with disabilities and their loved ones by penalizing them simply for reaching out for emergency assistance in times of need," Assistant Attorney General, Kristen Clarke said.

Additionally, the DOJ says that for years, the city would send weekly reports to landlords detailing all calls for emergency service at their rental properties, which included sensitive information about the person's mental health disabilities. Some reports allegedly detailed suicide attempts.

"The city used these reports to notify landlords of potential nuisance calls and encourage landlords to evict tenants," the DOJ said in a press release.

In response to the investigation, the department is requesting that Anoka change its policies and procedures, designate an ADA coordinator and train its staff.

Anoka City Attorney Scott Baumgartner says he is in the process of scheduling a meeting with the Anoka City Council to discuss the investigation's findings, and will not be in a position to comment until further review.

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