An investigation into whether Lexington violated federal fair housing laws when the city revoked a permit for a homeless shelter has been turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice, according to documents provided to the Herald-Leader.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sent a letter to the city and those who filed the complaint that the case — under HUD investigation for two years — has been turned over to the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.
The letter, dated March 10, doesn't say why the complaint has been referred to the Department of Justice. It only says HUD is authorized to refer any matter involving the legality of "any zoning or land use ordinance" to that agency for review. The letter is signed by Carlos Osegueda, the HUD regional director of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
Joseph Phillips, a spokesman for the HUD office in Atlanta, provided no further details about why the complaint was given to federal prosecutors, saying only that the "DOJ will review the complaint and take appropriate action."
Not all cases referred to the Department of Justice are prosecuted.
The Lexington Fair Housing Council, a nonprofit group, filed the complaint with HUD in September 2012 after a conditional-use permit for the Community Inn on Winchester Road was revoked by the Board of Adjustment. Federal fair-housing laws prohibit discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status and disability.
The complaint alleges that because so many homeless people are minorities and are protected under the federal fair-housing laws, the revocation of the permit violated federal law.
HUD later amended that complaint to include the city's passage of a day-shelter ordinance in October 2013. The ordinance requires a special permit for any organization operating during daylight hours if it serves people with "limited financial resources, including people who are homeless."
Homeless advocates allege that requiring additional zoning for organizations that serve the homeless violates the federal Fair Housing Act.
Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city government, declined to comment on the Department of Justice's involvement in the case.
Art Crosby, director of the Lexington Fair Housing Council, said the Community Inn and his organization have worked with the city for more than two years to settle the complaint. They will continue to try to work with the city to find a solution to both issues, he said. However, the Department of Justice will make its own decision.
"I am still optimistic that this can be settled," Crosby said.
Ginny Ramsey, co-founder of the Community Inn and the Catholic Action Center, said she would like to see all of the issues in the complaint settled.
"We did not request the DOJ involvement; it was the step taken by HUD since there is no reconciliation with the LFUCG regarding the Community Inn," Ramsey said. "Our desire is simply to continue serving the people."
The Department of Justice's civil rights division could not be reached for comment. The department typically does not comment on open investigations.
City officials and members of the Board of Adjustment have maintained during the fight over the Community Inn that during the permitting process, they were not made aware of the inn's function as a shelter. The Community Inn applied as a church and said it was going to function as a church, with two services Sunday and special programming Thursday.
Instead, the building operates as a homeless shelter, city officials said. That's why the conditional-use permit was revoked, officials have argued. When the Community Inn began exploring other locations, it discovered that in order to operate during the day, it would have to get a conditional-use permit to operate as a day shelter. That's why the day shelter ordinance was added to the HUD complaint.
A Fayette Circuit Court judge ruled in September that the city was right to revoke Community Inn's permit. That case is on appeal.
While the legal case is pending, the Community Inn continues to operate on Winchester Road.