Thursday, July 20, 2017

30 Low-Income Families To Split $300K+ Settlement Plus Moving Expenses From Lawsuit Accusing Housing Authority-Landlord Of Failing To Maintain Safe, Sanitary Housing Units; Crappy Conditions Allegedly Caused Or Exacerbated Health Conditions They, &/Or Their Kids Suffered

In Cairo, Illinois, The Southern Illinoisan reports:
  • Thirty residents of Elmwood and McBride public housing complexes in Cairo and their lawyers are to receive a combined $350,000 under the terms of a settlement agreement between the tenants and their landlord, the Alexander County Housing Authority.

    The settlement agreement stems from a lawsuit filed just more than a year ago in which the tenants accused the local housing authority of breaching its lease agreements with residents by failing to maintain housing units in safe and sanitary conditions.

    The residents alleged the failure of the ACHA and its senior staff to maintain basic living conditions either caused or exacerbated health conditions that they and/or their children suffered. The development or worsening of asthma directly related to their housing conditions was cited as a top health-related complaint in the lawsuit.

    Collectively, the 30 plaintiffs alleged that 13 of their young children are suffering severe breathing problems as a result of ACHA’s failures as a landlord and stewards of a housing program for low-income people living in one of the poorest cities in America.

    The plaintiffs are to receive either $10,000 or $10,500 each under the terms of the settlement agreement, splitting a combined $306,000, according to a resolution to ratify the agreement that the Alexander County Housing Authority’s board of commissioners approved by a 2-0 vote on Wednesday afternoon.

    The ACHA’s two board members who ratified the deal, Lindsey Reames and Kimberly Wize, are members of Housing and Urban Development’s recovery team assigned to the ACHA. Federal employees have been charged with daily operations of the ACHA since Feb. 22, 2016.

    On that day, which followed months of back-and-forth seeking corrective action, HUD officials removed the local governing board and assumed control of the agency, citing years of poor, inappropriate and potentially illegal management practices that were harming the residents for whom the ACHA managers were entrusted to provide adequate shelter. Questions have been raised about how the millions of federal taxpayer dollars they were allocated to carry out that mission in recent years were spent, given that it appears so little of it went to maintaining developments.

    During the board meeting, Towanda Macon, a HUD administrator from Chicago who is serving as executive director of the ACHA while it is in federal receivership, said that the settlement agreement will be paid by the housing authority’s insurance provider.

    The resolution states that the executive director signed the agreement on June 16.

    In addition to money for the tenants, the settlement agreement provides for the Chicago-based entities that provided legal representation to the tenants in to receive a combined $44,000. They were represented by Christopher Wilmes, of the law firm Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym, Ltd and Kate Walz, director of housing justice for The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

    The law firm of which Wilmes is a partner is to receive $15,138.02 under the terms of the agreement and $28,861.98 is to go to The Shriver Center, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide national leadership in advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty, according to the organization’s website.
    On April 10, federal officials announced that they would begin relocating everyone from Elmwood and McBride this summer by helping them find another public housing unit within the ACHA or another housing authority, or providing them with a Tenant Protection Voucher that can be used to subsidize rent paid to a private landlord, similar to the Housing Choice Voucher program commonly referred to as Section 8.

    The settlement agreement includes these requirements of the ACHA, as well as that the local agency must help with moving expense and start-up costs such as rent and utility deposits and relocation counseling services, which HUD has promised to provide to all residents of Elmwood and McBride, not just those plaintiffs included in the settlement.