A Wheaton-based fair housing group is suing the city of Peoria, alleging the city's "chronic nuisance ordinance" illegally targets African Americans.
The lawsuit claims Peoria intentionally targets mostly African American tenants with the ordinance. The Hope Fair Housing Center said it found African Americans, women and victims of domestic violence regularly faced eviction notices spurred by the ordinance more than whites over a three-year span.
In the research, it shows of the 148 nuisance citations Peoria handed out (in those three years) 106 of them, or approximately 71 percent, involved properties located in neighborhoods where African Americans are the largest racial group. Yet only 27 percent of Peoria's overall population is African American.
Representatives from the Hope Fair Housing Center and Sargent Shriver National Center of Poverty Law, both involved in the case, say that some landlords were so concerned for their tenants that they moved them out of town.
"People were calling the police for assistance, or were otherwise crime victims and they were still pursuing it as a nuisance enforcement and calling for the eviction of all the tenants including crime victims. That was one of the worst examples," says Kate Walz, the director of housing justice at the Sargent Shriver National Center of Poverty Law.
She's referring to a woman who called police after claiming she was being physically assaulted and was the victim of bricks being thrown through her windshield and gunshots fired.
A lawyer for Hope Fair Housing said that instead of providing aid to the woman, the city required the alleged victim to be evicted.
"Nuisance citations that talk about fines or actions against a land lord for the alleged nuisance activity of their tenants and sometimes there's no basis underlying activity that should be a nuisance," said Anne Houghtling, the executive director at Hope Fair Housing Center.
They believe the city is forcing landlords to take action against tenants and allege their study found that properties made up of mostly black residents were twice as likely to be cited as a building with a majority of white residents.
For example, the lawsuit alleges that Peoria has repeatedly targeted for discriminatory and unreasonable enforcement at Lexington Hills, an apartment complex with predominantly African American tenants in an area of town with a majority white population.
Another example cited in the suit describes how a grandmother who called police for help on several occasions became the subject of a nuisance notice.
It alleges even her landlord told her he didn't want to evict her, but Peoria required him to do so because of its nuisance ordinance.
Read the full text of the lawsuit here.