Targeted for Removal? | Feature | Chicago Reader

Targeted for Removal? 

Was the village of Addison trying to use TIF districts to run Hispanics out of town? Rita Gonzalez--"just a mom'--became an activist to find out.

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By Jordan Marsh

In 1994 and '95 private plaintiffs and the U.S. Justice Department sued the village of Addison, Illinois, claiming that it was trying to oust a big segment of its Hispanic population by implementing a large-scale urban-renewal plan. As the case made its way through the pretrial litigation, there were rallies, demonstrations, and press conferences. There were also deposition, motions, and expert witnesses. But there was never a trial. Last summer the largest and most contentious housing-discrimination case in recent history wound up being settled out of court. That meant there was no official answer to the question that had started it all: Was the village guilty of discrimination?

The law gives plaintiffs two ways to prove an allegation of discrimination: they can show that the defendant intended to discriminate against a group of people, or they can show that the defendant committed acts that had the effect of discriminating against a group of people. Proving discriminatory intent is often difficult, because it requires evidence of the defendant's state of mind. Proving discriminatory effect, however, is possible using statistics and other factual evidence. Federal judge Ruben Castillo reportedly had written a detailed decision on the plaintiff's discriminatory-effect claim and was ready to release it; the intentional-discrimination claim was to have been resolved by a trial. But when the parties agreed to a settlement covering both charges, there was no need for a trial--which ensured that Castillo's decision would never be released. The public will never know how he would have ruled.

The lawsuit was filed because of Rita Gonzalez, a working-class mother of three who never finished high school. In 1987 she and her family had moved from their small apartment on 19th Street near Damen to northwest-suburban Addison so that she could be closer to her new job, which would pay her almost as much as the two full-time jobs she was working in Chicago.

A prosperous town of 32,000, Addison had grown phenomenally in the 1960s and '70s as people moved out of Chicago and as the Eisenhower Expressway was extended through the area. Between 1980 and 1990 Addison's Hispanic population more than doubled, increasing from 6 percent of the population to 13 percent. That growth was typical of many Chicago suburbs. During the same period Elgin's Hispanic population increased by 121 percent, Waukegan's by 77 percent, Franklin Park's by 149 percent, Berwyn's by over 200 percent, and Cicero's by 373 percent. In 1990 Stone Park became the Chicago area's first majority-Hispanic suburb.

Gonzalez says that soon after she arrived she realized that Addison wasn't quite like Pilsen. "You wouldn't see people outside at all. Everybody stayed in the house. I mean, we didn't even see neighbors. It was beautiful weather out, and people just were not outside. You could see doors closed and air conditioners running. It was so totally different than 19th Street."

As she went about her business, Gonzalez also became aware of strangers staring at her in the grocery store. Yet when she asked for help she felt invisible to the store employees, though they readily helped non-Hispanic customers. "It's just little things like that that you encounter every single day," she says. "It's like you don't even exist."

Addison school officials insisted that Gonzalez's young son enroll in bilingual classes, though the only language he spoke was English. It wasn't until it became clear that the bilingual teacher couldn't get through to the boy that he was removed from the program.

Dismayed by such incidents, Gonzalez began to wonder if there was something she could do. She'd never considered becoming an activist. "All my life I went to work, I came home, cleaned, ironed, got ready for the next day of work--and that was it. I never read newspapers, I didn't know who the village [leaders] were. I never paid attention to any of that stuff. I was just a mom." But then she happened to see a newspaper article that characterized an impromptu Hispanic parade on a traditional holiday as a riot and stated that the police had had to be called in. Gonzalez, who'd watched the parade, was offended by the mischaracterization and decided to organize another parade. In 1992, realizing she could do it more cheaply through a not-for-profit organization, she founded Hispanics United of DuPage County.

The group organized several cultural-awareness events in Addison, and over time it came to be seen by many as the voice of Hispanics in Addison. On October 3, 1992, Javier Sosa was arrested for allegedly trying to run away from a police officer. The Addison police claimed that Sosa had yelled and become argumentative when the officer asked him to turn his car stereo down. They said that when the officer tried to arrest Sosa, he pulled away and ran. Gonzalez, who witnessed the incident, says that the officer was belligerent and grabbed Sosa and slammed him into his car without provocation.

That night Gonzalez called Addison village president Anthony Russotto at home to complain about Sosa's treatment. Russotto said the village would look into the matter, but after an internal investigation the police department supported the officer's version. On the advice of an attorney, Sosa pleaded guilty. But Hispanics United helped him get another attorney, and he changed his plea to innocent. He was acquitted, largely because of Gonzalez's testimony.

In late 1993 Gonzalez began noticing newspaper articles about the village's plans to redevelop a deteriorating shopping center. She began to worry when she learned that the plan also included some kind of redevelopment--precisely what kind wasn't clear--of the adjacent neighborhood known as Green Oaks Court, a largely Hispanic residential area. Village officials claimed that the area had serious crime problems, run-down buildings that were constantly cited for housing-code violations, and homes that had been built too close together to allow adequate parking and open space.

"What concerned me," says Gonzalez, "was that they were saying false things against the neighborhood--it's gang-ridden, and there's too many people, the buildings are too close together. As time went on they made it sound worse and worse." Soon she learned of another equally vague redevelopment plan for the Michael Lane area, the mostly Hispanic neighborhood in which she lived at the time.

Redevelopment can mean many things, from improving infrastructure such as streets and public transportation to constructing new schools and parks to demolishing buildings. The vagueness of the term and the lack of specifics made Gonzalez think that village officials had an agenda they weren't discussing. "If there were any claims they were making, they were simple things that they could have fixed. So I started suspecting maybe they're just trying to wipe out our neighborhoods."

To finance the redevelopment the village planned to use tax increment financing. The TIF law, passed by the state in 1977, authorizes municipalities to designate districts "blighted" if they meet certain criteria. Any property-tax revenue generated by the district above what it was generating at the time of the designation--the increment--goes into a special fund dedicated solely to improving the area rather than into general funds. The increment can be used to improve the area's infrastructure or to subsidize private development--TIFs were designed to encourage private development in areas that otherwise wouldn't get it.

TIFs weren't widely used until the mid-1980s, when federal funds to cities dried up and municipalities had to look for new resources. The TIF that the city of Chicago set up for a portion of the downtown area in 1984 would eventually return more than $30 million a year. The number of TIFs has since skyrocketed in the suburbs as well as the city, raising concerns that TIFs are being abused, depriving schools, parks, and forest preserve districts of revenues they would otherwise have received.

TIF designation also empowers municipalities to condemn and acquire private property and then sell it to private developers, and that worried Gonzalez. She and Luis Pelayo, president of the Hispanic Council in neighboring Wood Dale, met with Russotto and other village leaders. Gonzalez says, "We just let them know basically, 'There might be situations in the neighborhood that need to be taken care of, but I think there's other ways to do it than bulldozing the neighborhood.' And we just basically got a clear message that their plan was set and they were doing what they wanted."

The state TIF law requires municipalities to prepare a detailed redevelopment plan for each TIF district, and in March 1994 the village released its plan for the district containing the Green Oaks neighborhood. On March 7 village officials held a public hearing. According to a transcript that later became part of the court record, one landlord asked about the fate of the buildings in the neighborhood. "My point is what happens to Green Oaks? What happens to the people I have living in my building? You're not explaining to me what's going to happen in that area."

Village trustee Larry Hartwig, who would become mayor (the title changed) in 1995 when Russotto died, replied, "We are not necessarily going to buy land....All that is is an option." The landlord pressed for more information on the plans for the area, and Hartwig told him twice that the village had "no plans at this point." Later in the meeting Hartwig said, "The village would like to do the least possible to accomplish its goal....You know the old story, the government that governs the least governs the best. I think we're committed to that." He continued, "That's why we wanted public input all the way. If we already had decided that, then I think your reaction tonight would be, 'What's the story, guys? You never let us know, you never discussed it or anything, and here you've got decisions made already.' We haven't made those decisions. We want to discuss that, and we want public input all the way--and that's what we are getting."

Yet just two weeks later, on March 21, the board of trustees passed an ordinance officially designating the area a TIF district. One week after that, during a closed-door executive session, the trustees discussed the acquisition of buildings in Green Oaks. Minutes from the session, made public only after they became part of the court record, state, "[Village manager Joe] Block began by telling the Board that there are 3 properties in the Green Oaks Court Area that may be available....President Russotto stated that he would like to buy the center core first. We can buy and demolish more buildings this way....Mr. Block stated that he can probably accomplish the purchase and demolition and get started now....Joe was directed to go after Hararra building and one other, for $400,000. Buy both buildings and demolish them."

Increasingly worried, Gonzalez filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in late April, alleging that the village was discriminating against its minority residents by displacing Hispanic tenants. The complaint found its way to Leslie Matlaw, then an investigator with HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Matlaw went to Addison, where she began by reviewing the village's housing-code enforcement records. "I did six, seven, eight hours of xeroxing, and they were all Hispanic names," she says. "It was marked, it was blatant. I'm looking at these materials and I'm going, 'Where are all the white people?'"

As Matlaw investigated the village's actions in the TIF district she decided that the case might involve a violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits actions that "make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race...or national origin." That meant she had to refer the case to the Justice Department, which enforces the act. But she says, "What was clear from the very beginning was that people's houses were being demolished and that time was of the essence." She knew that the Justice Department wouldn't be able to move quickly. "In the interests of not having everybody's house torn down, and per the request of Rita Gonzalez, I started poking around. I knew people who were capable of handling it immediately."

Among the people she contacted was attorney Matt Piers of Gessler, Hughes & Socol, who in late August began working on a lawsuit to stop the demolitions and compensate people who'd lost their homes. By September the village had purchased nine buildings in Green Oaks Court and demolished six. Sales contracts had been approved on four more buildings, and the village had started proceedings to condemn ten more. Most of the buildings had four units.

In July the village had released its redevelopment plan for the proposed Michael Lane TIF district, and on September 6 it held another public hearing. By this time the redevelopment plans and the continuing Green Oaks demolitions were getting a lot of media coverage, much of it focused on the charges by Gonzalez and other activists that the plans were discriminatory. But village officials didn't seem to care. They were blunt about demolitions in the Michael Lane area. According to the hearing transcript, when a tenant in the district asked whether he should look for another apartment, Russotto said, "I would look now."

"What you're saying is basically--you're saying you're going to tear the building down," the tenant said.

"I would look now."

"You're tearing the building down."

"I would look now. I don't know specifically if [your] building is going to be torn down, but I would look now. There's going to be a lot of buildings that we would take down."

The board approved the Michael Lane TIF on October 3--and within hours authorized the purchase of four buildings.

By October Piers was getting ready to file his suit against the village, but the Justice Department was still investigating. "We notified the Justice Department that we were proceeding," he says. "They were completely uncooperative in terms of sharing information with us. Indeed they threatened us and our clients if we wouldn't turn over our information, but refused to turn over theirs. We finally said, 'Well, we're marching ahead without you then if you're going to behave that way.' When they realized that we were getting ready to file, they scrambled and put a lawsuit together. Just about on the day that we called the village and told them that we were prepared to sue, [the Justice Department] sent a letter to the village saying that they were prepared to sue as well if the village didn't halt the demolition."

Either as a result of Piers's threatened lawsuit or the letter from Justice or both, village officials agreed to halt demolitions until the matter was resolved. By this time the village had demolished eight buildings and acquired another three in the Green Oaks neighborhood, displacing 44 families--eliminating a fifth of the neighborhood's residential units. There had been no demolitions yet in the Michael Lane TIF.

During the litigation that followed, there was a lot of mistrust between attorneys for the private plaintiffs and attorneys and officials with the Justice Department, who also argued about who deserved blame for what. Edward Voci, an attorney for the Chicago-based Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, one of the plaintiffs, says, "DOJ failed to file suit for over a year, leaving the private plaintiffs to carry the burden in bringing a halt to the bulldozing, assembling expert witnesses, and expending large amounts in costs."

Paul Hancock, then the Justice Department's acting deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, says, "I don't know where that's coming from." He concedes that housing was demolished during his department's investigation. "But we had not, at that point, made any determination as to whether what [the village] was doing was unlawful. We didn't have any authority to stop them. The private plaintiffs didn't act either--a lot happened before the private plaintiffs acted. We obtained an agreement to stop the demolition before the private plaintiffs filed their lawsuit."

"Bullshit," says Voci, who insists it was the filing of the private plaintiffs' suit that prompted the village to halt the demolitions.

On October 6 Piers, along with attorneys from several other firms, filed his lawsuit in federal court. The plaintiffs included Hispanics and non-Hispanics who rented or owned homes in the TIF districts or who had been displaced by the recent demolitions, as well as three not-for-profit organizations: Hispanics United, the Hispanic Council, and the Leadership Council. The suit alleged that "in the guise of 'redevelopment,' the Defendants have acted and are acting...to discriminate against Hispanics, to destroy the two largest Hispanic residential communities in the Village of Addison." It alleged that the actions of village officials had been discriminatory in both effect and intent and violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment (which prohibits a state or other government entity from "deny[ing] to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"), the Fair Housing Act, and other federal statutes. The suit asked the court to declare the actions of village officials illegal and to order the village to build affordable housing for the displaced families, establish a human rights and fair-housing ordinance and commission, and pay compensatory and punitive damages to the plaintiffs as well as their attorneys' fees.

The case was assigned to Judge Ruben Castillo. Village lawyers promptly filed a motion asking him to withdraw, asserting that he might be biased and citing his previous employment as an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Village attorney Barry Moss later told the Chicago Tribune that they were simply trying to give the judge a way out if he wanted one. Castillo denied the motion. (Asked recently if he thought Castillo had shown any bias during the litigation, Moss refused to comment, noting that the judge will oversee implementation of the settlement.)

Village officials soon began negotiating with Justice Department lawyers behind closed doors. Neither the officials nor the Justice Department will disclose the precise nature of the negotiations, which dragged on into late spring 1995. Worried that the negotiations were taking too long and worried about what kind of deal the Justice lawyers were considering, Piers and other attorneys and plaintiffs traveled to Washington to ask assistant attorney general for civil rights Deval Patrick to get involved in the case. Village officials too met with Patrick in an attempt to prevent a lawsuit.

In July 1995 the Justice Department finally filed its own lawsuit against the village, alleging that "the purpose and effect of the village's actions are to limit or reduce the number of Hispanic families residing within the village of Addison." The suit and the private suit were promptly consolidated because they contained essentially the same allegations.

The day the suit was filed, village officials held a press conference. Mayor Hartwig was defiant. "Never in the history of these TIF projects did any village official or consultant inflict a scar of racism or bias into Green Oaks Court, Michael Lane, or any other neighborhood in Addison," he declared. "The problems of these blighted areas know no race or ethnicity." Hartwig called the Justice Department lawsuit "almost an affirmative-action program for housing....The finding of a violation of the Fair Housing Act is the fulcrum needed for the Clinton administration to put into place what we believe is its real agenda, which is righting past wrongs inflicted upon minorities through consent decrees and court orders which mandate that the local government bear the social and economic cost for providing housing stock and social programs not previously available to minorities."

Village officials still believe the suit was a partisan attack. "We feel the lawsuit was political from day one," says village manager Joe Block. "You have a Democratic president targeting a community in Republican Du Page County." Asked if he believes that explanation is the sole reason the Justice Department filed suit, he says without hesitation, "Absolutely." Paul Hancock responds, "There was nothing political about this. It was a good solid case, we believe, of challenging intentional discrimination by a municipality acting on the basis of national origin rather than on a good city-planning basis."

During the press conference Barry Moss had made a statement that Piers believed was clear evidence that one of the village's goals was to reduce the number of Hispanics in the TIF districts. "The village designed a program that is basically furthering the goals of the Fair Housing Act," Moss had said. The designation of the TIF districts and the subsequent demolition of housing came about because village officials "started looking around for ways to upgrade the community and, in fact, maintain the diverse housing stock that it has and basically make sure that the minority population within Addison, which is substantial, was widely dispersed within the community as the Fair Housing Act dictates."

Piers didn't believe that village officials were trying to encourage integration. "If you believe that these guys were trying to get a more thorough integration throughout the community, then I'd like to sell you a bridge," he says. "But the admission that they acted with ethnic consciousness is a violation of the law. It's a violation of the 14th Amendment, not just the Fair Housing Act." Piers planned to use the statement in the trial he assumed was coming.

Between late 1994, when Piers's lawsuit was filed, and early 1997, when Judge Castillo finally set a trial date, both sides filed countless motions, depositions, and expert reports and counterreports. Village officials denied that they'd discriminated against Hispanics, and their attorneys insisted that the demolitions had been prompted by problems in the neighborhood that had nothing to do with ethnicity.

The village's redevelopment plans for both Green Oaks and Michael Lane had stated that many buildings in the area were in poor condition, something the village's attorneys reiterated during the two and a half years of pretrial litigation. The Michael Lane plan stated that the residential areas in the proposed district contained "a number of buildings that have suffered from inconsistent or sporadic maintenance, [and] there are hundreds of Village safety and [housing] code violations cited annually within these complexes." Yet a report commissioned by the village in the late 1980s had produced a different analysis: "Most of the land in the Michael Lane area has been developed with four-to-six-unit apartment buildings that essentially are in good repair." The report emphasized that Addison's aggressive building-inspection program--buildings must pass inspection if landlords want to keep their licenses--"appears to be quite effective for ensuring that all rental units remain in sound condition."

Charles Orlebeke, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who served as a land-use expert for the plaintiffs, stated in a report that the housing in the affected neighborhoods was not in poor condition. "It

wasn't much to look at, but it was basically sound," he now says. "It was fully occupied. It wasn't falling apart. There weren't obvious signs of need for rehabilitation that you see, for example, in some of the bad areas in Chicago after the 60s and 70s, where you have lots of vacant land, boarded-up buildings, fire damage. I mean, there wasn't any of that kind of traditional blight to the buildings. They seemed OK."

In the report Orlebeke conceded that the districts probably met the standards of blight as defined by the TIF statute, but he contended that those standards weren't appropriate from a public-policy perspective. "It wasn't technically illegal for them to TIF those areas," he says, "because you can TIF just about any area under Illinois law." But he found it strange that the village chose fully occupied residential areas, because such areas "are clearly unwise and inappropriate targets for TIF designation."

The two redevelopment plans had also contained nearly identical language on the density of the housing: "The residential complexes are often regarded as 'too dense' and in need of more open space." Village attorneys also repeatedly argued this point during the litigation.

Walking through the Green Oaks neighborhood, Gonzalez says, "These buildings are solid brick buildings. What do you mean that they were built too close together? They weren't built too close together when the Anglos lived here, when the Polish people lived here, when the Asian people lived here, when the Italian people lived here. But now all of a sudden Hispanics live here, and, well, 'Oh no, that's a safety and a health hazard. Those buildings are too close together.' Well, I lived in Chicago. We had a gangway smaller than this sidewalk and no grass. We were fine there, but it's better over here because there's grass. And then they come and say the buildings are too close together? Are they crazy?"

Village attorneys also contended that village officials had undertaken the demolitions as a way to deal with crime in the area. During a press conference, village manager Joe Block had stated that the two TIF districts encompassed "two of our most active crime areas, in terms of gang crime." He cited the June 1994 shooting of a young woman who'd been sitting on her porch in the Green Oaks neighborhood. "You do not see that type of criminal activity throughout our community," he said. "It seems to be concentrated in a few areas. Two of these TIF district areas are two of them." (It later became apparent that the victim wasn't involved in gang activity and that the shooter, who was subsequently convicted, wasn't from Addison.)

Crime in an area doesn't constitute "blight" under the TIF law and therefore can't be used to justify designating a TIF district, yet the village attorneys often referred to a "high concentration of gang and other serious criminal activity" in the two districts. They also put into the court record a report by Russell Schecht, a tactical officer and gang specialist with the Addison Police Department. In the report Schecht maintained that there had been a lot of gang-related activity in Michael Lane and Green Oaks since 1988 and that it constituted the "great majority of gang-related activity in Addison." Village attorneys also filed data on the high number of calls for police assistance in the TIF districts.

Yet it's difficult to compare crime rates within Addison, because the village doesn't keep such statistics by neighborhood. In October 1997 a police department spokesman told me the department did compile such information but it was for internal use only. A subsequent Freedom of Information Act request for the statistics elicited a written response stating that the department didn't keep crime data by neighborhood.

Gonzalez and other plaintiffs concede that the two neighborhoods had problems. Gonzalez, interviewed for a September 1995 article in the Los Angeles Times, acknowledged that the neighborhoods had their fair share of litter and young men throwing gang signs. She even acknowledged that there were overcrowded units, with more than the legally allowed number of occupants. The Hispanic Council's Luis Pelayo was quoted in the Addison Press saying, "It is true there is a lot of crime in the [Green Oaks] area." But both contended that the appropriate response to such problems was not to demolish the neighborhoods but to enforce the law and educate the residents.

One of the most contentious issues during the litigation was what kind of relocation assistance had been offered residents who would be displaced. Gonzalez said that at the meeting she and Pelayo had with village officials in early 1994 the only assistance offered was the suggestion that she and Pelayo go to Du Page County officials and real estate agents and find alternative housing.

Village manager Joe Block remembers that meeting differently. He says he and other village officials offered to help anyone who would be forced to move. "We had agreed to sit down and say, 'Let's form a task force of your people and our people, and let's identify those people who'd need relocation, those people who'd need social services, things like that. Let's make this a win-win both for the village and for the residents of that neighborhood.' They left. They said they wanted to talk with their people and get back to us. And about six weeks later we got a letter saying they weren't interested in speaking with us again."

Piers says that village officials might have felt safe refusing to offer financial help. "Every other major public-works project where houses have come down, people get relocation assistance either in the form of an offer of new places to live, or cash--for political reasons, if for no other reasons," he says. "Because otherwise you've got a big stink on your hands. In Addison the Mexican community didn't count. They weren't a political power. They're still not a political power, and they're relatively recent residents. And so the attitude of the village was, 'We could wipe them out, and nobody will care.'"

The redevelopment plans for both the Green Oaks and Michael Lane TIFs did mention relocation costs--but the section of each plan that stated the estimated project costs didn't list relocation assistance. In court documents, village officials acknowledged that they'd informed Kane, McKenna and Associates, the village's consultant for the TIF districts, that they "did not want to include relocation assistance as a line item in the budget for either the Michael Lane or Green Oaks TIFs." They also admitted that "financial assistance [to defray relocation expenses] was not offered," though they added, "The Village manager was authorized to make payments on a case-by-case basis....To date there have been no requests for financial assistance."

Block still insists that the village was prepared to offer relocation assistance for some of the displaced residents. "I think we would have considered it for people that needed it," he says. "Not everyone needed it. Some of the named plaintiffs, in fact, were quoted in their depositions as indicating that not only did they find an apartment, but also basically just had friends help them move. We weren't going to guarantee anyone $10,000 a move. But we would certainly be willing to consider reasonable expenses." He also maintains that the village always had enough affordable housing to absorb everyone displaced by the redevelopment. He cites a study the village commissioned that looked at which school districts children transferred to as a result of the demolitions. It found that "about 63 percent of the people just simply moved to another apartment in Addison." The remaining residents, Block says, moved to other towns.

Mayor Larry Hartwig insists the village offered to pay relocation costs but was rebuffed. He also says that any omission by the village was merely the consequence of inexperience, since Addison's only prior involvement with relocation was with residents who lived in an area susceptible to flooding. In that case the village had used a federal program to buy the affected homes, and the residents who had to move hadn't been offered relocation assistance by the federal government. He says the village assumed the same rule would apply to other relocation plans. "We weren't trying to be malicious or anything. We were just trying to be what at the time seemed reasonable--the way other people were being treated. We didn't realize, I guess, that minorities have to be treated differently. Nonminorities, I guess, don't get that kind of extra help."

Finally in April 1997 the private plaintiffs, arguing that they'd established that Addison officials had violated the Fair Housing Act, filed a motion asking the court to rule in their favor on the discriminatory-effect claim. Judge Castillo prepared his decision on that claim and set the trial date for the discriminatory-intent claim. Then in May, one week before the trial was scheduled to begin, the parties reached a tentative agreement on all issues but the attorneys' fees. They wrangled over that issue well into the summer, and the judge ultimately gave them a deadline of July 31. One week after the deadline, on August 7, the parties announced that they'd settled.

The settlement requires Addison to pay $4.3 million in attorneys' fees and compensation to the aggrieved parties--one of the largest amounts ever in a housing-discrimination case. The consent decree requires the village to build a new park in each neighborhood, something village officials now say they probably would have done anyway. The village is allowed to acquire and demolish more buildings, but there are limitations on the number and on how quickly the demolitions can happen. For example, the village is allowed to demolish buildings in Michael Lane and build replacement housing only after the new park is finished. Moreover, the village can't let the number of residential buildings in either area drop below a specified level unless it has committed to building an acceptable number of affordable-housing units in the area.

The village is also required to provide relocation assistance to any residents displaced by future demolitions. Officials will have to identify and offer each displaced family two apartments similar in size and rent to the apartment they're losing. Families--including those displaced during the original round of demolitions in 1994--will receive $2,000 from the village or the sum of their last three months rent (whichever is greater) to cover the cost of relocation. And the village must pay $5,000 in damages to each of the 44 families displaced in 1994.

The village must also pay the three organizations that were named as plaintiffs in the suit a total of $60,000, and it must deposit another $30,000 in an interest-bearing account that will be used to further awareness of fair-housing laws. The village must set aside $100,000 to cover unanticipated damage claims against it. And finally it must pay $2.5 million to the plaintiffs' attorneys. According to village officials, all these costs will be covered by insurance or proceeds from the commercial portions of the TIF, which weren't affected by the lawsuit.

The settlement allowed village officials to claim truthfully that there was no official finding of any wrongdoing. They didn't explain why they were willing to fork over several million dollars to avoid a trial that might have vindicated them, and instead declared victory, claiming that the redevelopment plan called for in the consent decree is very similar to what they intended all along. "I believe we've got a very good redevelopment agreement, one that could be a model for other communities," Mayor Hartwig told the Addison Press when the settlement was announced. "We could have done it without the lawsuit." He added, "We wanted to negotiate with them from the beginning. We offered to work with them. I believe in my heart they did this purposely in order to get more money."

An editorial in the Addison Press stated that the claim of victory was "not only disconcerting, it is also wrong, considering the village faces several million dollars worth of fines in the suit after attempts to improve a poor neighborhood went horribly awry....The relentlessly upbeat spin cannot disguise the fact that village officials made some serious miscalculations and missteps in their development plans. Now, they are paying the consequences."

But Joe Block says, "The plaintiffs had attempted in terms of the lawsuit to stop all redevelopment activity in those neighborhoods. They failed to do so. There'll be a significant amount of redevelopment occurring in those neighborhoods--which is what the village sought." He adds, "The worst part about it all is that, as usual, the lawyers are walking away with most of the money. Very few people in Addison will see a dime from that settlement."

Village officials praised the Justice Department for ensuring that the case was settled. Matt Piers sarcastically agrees that the department was crucial, noting, "The Justice Department appeared to us to be willing to cut any deal they could so that they could avoid trial and declare victory."

But the Justice Department's Paul Hancock is satisfied with the way things turned out and doesn't think the plaintiffs would have done as well had they gone to trial. "I think it's a great settlement," he says. "I'm pleased that everybody was able to meet their interests here. I've read the criticism, and I'm surprised that it's coming, because on the one hand the private plaintiffs are calling this the largest monetary settlement ever in a fair-housing case, and at the same time they're criticizing the Department of Justice for playing the lead role in effectuating the settlement."

Hancock says that even though they were on the same side, the Justice Department and the private plaintiffs had different interests to protect. "People look for the United States to be somewhat of a neutral role and try to bring about a settlement--and we certainly want to make sure there's compliance with the law and there's just compensation for violations of the law. But at the same time we have to make sure there's fairness to everyone on all sides."

Not all the residents were happy with the settlement. At a hearing before Judge Castillo at the end of that October nearly 30 people spoke about how the case had affected them. Debra Cagle, a non-Hispanic resident whose apartment had been demolished, said, "This village almost tore my family apart." Marvin Husby, a non-Hispanic landlord who owns a building that had been slated for demolition, said village officials "ought to step up and take responsibility and admit they have a race problem. That's the only way we're going to see a change in this administration."

Aurie Pennick, president of the Leadership Council, knows that her organization relies on court victories to help it press for open housing and would therefore have benefited from a guilty verdict against Addison. But she says that in this case her primary responsibility was to the individual plaintiffs. "Many of the families were very tired and really very uneasy," she says. "They didn't know whether to start their lives or not. A trial would have been very long, we felt, very protracted. Establishing case law is very important to us, but we weren't in this alone. We have to do what's best for the client."

Even Piers realized that continued litigation would only harm the community he was trying to protect. The trial would have been acrimonious, and whoever lost would have appealed. "The length that the case had lasted already was causing injury to the community that we were representing, because living under the cloud was just becoming increasingly uncomfortable," he says. "So we were eager to try and resolve the case."

Though the consent decree calls for more demolitions and significant redevelopment, Piers says the plaintiffs never conceded that redevelopment was necessary, but they also never took the position that redevelopment was unacceptable. "The specific concern that we had at that time," he says, "was that the destruction was open-ended, widespread. They were talking about taking down a minimum of half of the units in both of the neighborhoods. They had no redevelopment plan. They had no relocation assistance. The net result of those half-baked nonplans would have been the complete destruction of the two communities." Mayor Hartwig responds, "That's a ridiculous statement. Either [the neighborhoods] needed [redevelopment] or they didn't need it."

Piers still believes that if the plaintiffs had gone to trial they could have proved that the village intended to displace Hispanic residents. "I think that this was unquestionably an intent case," he says. "And I think that you could make an argument that the intent case was stronger than the effects case."

As evidence, he says, "The trustees, to a person, denied knowledge that these two communities were predominantly Hispanic," even though Addison has only 32,000 residents. "It's inherently incredible. You've got a couple neighborhoods with 2,000 Mexicans living in them--and the rest of the town is overwhelmingly white."

He also cites a 1993 application the village sent to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for funding for more police officers, which characterizes the Green Oaks neighborhood as a "transient, Hispanic immigrant area." A section titled "Racial and Cultural Unrest" also makes this appeal: "A significantly upwardly mobile Hispanic population is encountering discrimination from long-term residents. At issue is the 'right' for these upwardly mobile Hispanics to move from high-density multi-family areas into lower density single family houses owned by long-term, non-Hispanic residents." Piers says this indicates that at least some village officials were aware that there were areas in Addison with a significant Hispanic population and that there was anti-Hispanic discrimination in the Addison housing market. Joe Block responds, "That was written by a private consultant that we had used, and I don't agree with it. I think Hispanics have had no problem acquiring housing either here or elsewhere."

Piers also points to a comment in the minutes of a March 1994 executive session concerning the TIF district that encompasses Green Oaks: "Trustee Chrysgelos asked about the displacement of the Hispanic tenants that total approximately 50% in the area." And he cites a note written by Robert Rychlicki, an executive vice president of Kane, McKenna and Associates, the consulting firm hired by the village to determine whether various neighborhoods could legally be designated TIFs: "Again, the area [apparently Michael Lane] is all Hispanic. Is Addison earmarking certain areas or ethnic groups? (This could be the perception.)" And Rychlicki's colleague Leslie Murphy stated in her deposition, "I remember in my own mind driving through [both TIF areas] and saying, oh, there's a large Hispanic population here....It was obvious." Block flatly denies that there was any discussion of the racial breakdown of either of the TIF districts and says that the TIF consultants never brought the issue to the attention of the village.

Of course because there was no trial, none of these points was ever argued out in court.

"Basically, it's a disappointment that they weren't found guilty," says Rita Gonzalez. "I think that would have meant a lot to a lot of people, because I think it wouldn't have given [village officials] as much liberty to run around and say, 'Well, ha ha ha, we weren't found guilty.' We feel that they were guilty. I'm sure that the majority of the people, if they're looking at the facts that we have put together, they're gonna know. It's obvious."

Nevertheless Gonzalez supports the settlement. "What [came out of] the settlement we probably never would have gotten had we gone through a trial. Sometimes you have to really think things out, being a leader in the community especially. So much more would have been gained by settling than just the simple satisfaction of having them found guilty. We know in our hearts and our minds what happened."

She also knows there was a possibility that the plaintiffs could have lost. "And then what? Then it really would have been open season on the Hispanic communities." Yet she has no plans to leave Addison. "We don't want to move back to Chicago, because out here it's beautiful," she says. "It's safe--it's perfect out here. It's not too big, it's not the big city, it's not too small. It's perfect. I don't want to go anywhere." o

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photograph by Chip Williams.

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