Feds enter legal battle over sober house

Hinsdale’s denial of Trinity location on Grant Street is discriminatory, according to DOJ

The Village of Hinsdale has been sued by the U.S. Department of Justice under the Fair Housing Act for its effort to prohibit Trinity Sober Living from operating a group home in town.

In its complaint filed Nov. 24 with the U.S. District Court for Northern District of Illinois, the DOJ alleges that the village’s actions “constitute a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights granted by the Fair Housing Act, or a denial of rights protected by the Fair Housing Act to a group of persons.”

Trinity Sober Living provides long-term accommodations for men recovering men from drug and alcohol addiction. The nonprofit organization purchased the single-family home at 111 N. Grant Street last year to serve as a group home for 10 or more residents. The village filed a complaint in DuPage County Circuit Court to block Trinity from operating on the grounds that it violated a zoning regulation against homes with three or more unrelated persons. Trinity subsequently counter-sued with a complaint in federal court on the grounds that recovering alcoholics and addicts are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and are entitled to live in the home. The judge agreed.

Michael Owens, executive director and founder of the organization, said he was pleased to see the justice department had taken Trinity’s side.

“We were thrilled that they decided to jump in and file their own complaint against the village,” Owens said, adding the DOJ had shown interest in the case in the last several months. “We just think that there’s inequity when it comes to folks living with a disability.”

The DOJ holds that Hinsdale is treating Trinity unjustly.

“The village has discriminated on the basis of disability, including by refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation, in violation of the FHA,” the complaint reads, asking the court to award monetary damages to Trinity and assess a fine on the village.

Owens said the village is on the wrong side of the law.

“It’s still important for Hinsdale to recognize — and all suburbs — that people that are recovering from addiction are recognized by the (federal) government as people with a disability,” he commented.

In a statement Wednesday, Village President Tom Cauley addressed the lawsuit, saying the village will fight the DOJ’s allegations.

“We maintain that the village has acted in accordance with the law, and the village has worked to preserve its right to determine how its neighborhoods are zoned,” Cauley contended.

He also criticized Trinity Sober Living for not consulting the village before purchasing the home.

“As Trinity Sober Living knows, there are other locations in Hinsdale that could be appropriate and lawful locations for their group home, but Trinity Sober Living never discussed any of those other locations with the village,” Cauley said.

Records show last month the Grant Street home was sold to a developer for $775,000. Owens confirmed the sale, saying there were 14 people living in the home with another half-dozen on a waiting list.

“We had outgrown the Hinsdale house, and we knew we needed a bigger house,” he said, adding that the new home is in Bensenville.

He said he was disappointed that some in the village saw residents as threats. But he also cited letters of support from neighbors and even homemade dinners that were dropped off. Despite the hurdles and the continuing litigation, Owens hopes to return to the village as most of his residents are from surrounding towns.

“It’s nice to be along the Burlington Northern,” Owens said. “I would like to come back to Hinsdale at some point.”

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean