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A lawsuit brought by the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, on behalf of SELF, Inc, and L&R Realty has cleared the way for a group home for thirteen people with disabilities to open in the Town of Wolcott. The case was filed in 2020 to challenge the Town’s 2016 denial of zoning approval for the home. The Town denied the home a permit, because of discriminatory statements of neighbors and members of the planning and zoning commission. The consent decree settling the case requires the Town to grant zoning approval for SELF’s group home, adopt a new reasonable accommodation policy, modify its zoning ordinances for group homes, and pay $350,000 to the group home developer L&R Realty. It will also pay $10,000 to the United States, a co-plaintiff in the case.

SELF, Inc. provides supportive housing for adults with mental health disabilities. In 2015, SELF tried to relocate its program from Waterbury to Wolcott so residents could live in a lower density residential sitting. Working with co-plaintiff L&R Realty, a Wolcott-based property developer, they identified a vacant property that had been used as a group home for adolescent girls. Despite receiving initial assurances that they would be able to operate, the Town Zoning Commission denied the plaintiffs’ permit application – after L&R made significant investments renovating the property. The denial came after public opposition to the plan because the home’s residents would be disabled. Even the Town Zoning Commission members made statements at the hearings about the residents such as “Are they aggressive?” and “without being insensitive, you said they have mental health issues.  Are they – is there anybody dangerous or –.”

While the application was pending, the Town amended its zoning ordinances to make it essentially impossible to operate a group home for adults within its border. After the zoning denial, the Town ignored the plaintiffs’ request to allow them to operate as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Center’s Legal Director Greg Kirschner noted “SELF’s clients should not have had to wait this long to move to Wolcott. The Fair Housing Act guarantees the right of people with disabilities to live in housing of their choice. Towns and cities must ensure that they welcome all people regardless of their disability status.”

Plaintiffs filed suit in 2020 and were joined by the Department of Justice after the federal government conducted an investigation. Greg Kirschner and Staff Attorney David Lavery litigated the case for the Center with Stephen Dane of Dane Law, LLC a law firm specializing in discrimination cases.