UPTOWN — Civil rights lawyers allege an Uptown building management company has discriminated against dozens of immigrant senior citizens who participate in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, according to a complaint filed with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.
Thursday, the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights filed a discrimination complaint against Horizon Realty Group, 1946 W. Lawrence Ave., alleging the company coerced at least 18 senior citizens living at Sheridan Plaza to sign new leases in the middle of their lease terms with rent hikes between October 2015 and May 2016, according to a news release about the complaint.
“These tenants are mostly refugees and immigrants from the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Cuba and Korea who couldn’t understand the rental documents in front of them,” said Lori Clark, of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, adding some tenants had lived in the building for nearly 20 years.
Horizon Realty Group took over management of the 144-unit Sheridan Plaza building, 4607 N. Sheridan Road, in 2010. The group's properties also includes: Buena Terrace in Uptown, Barry Court and Dakin Court in Lakeview, and Damen Corridor Apartments in Bucktown, according to its website.
Horizon was not immediately available for comment on the complaint.
The rent hikes were not covered by the Chicago Housing Authority leaving the tenants, who are mostly members of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and living on fixed incomes, saddled "with rents much higher than they could afford, threatening them with being forced to move after years of establishing vital support networks in the neighborhood," according to the complaint.
“The pattern of discrimination we found caused severe trauma to many senior citizens who are already suffering from a range of health issues and disabilities," Clark said.
In one case, a 97-year-old Cuban immigrant was given a 30-page lease that would nearly double her rent written in English and told to sign on the spot. The woman was not given a copy of the lease, according to the release.
In another, a 95-year-old Soviet Union refugee was offered about $7,000 refund from Horizon "for either not signing a new lease or signing at a high market rate." The man was later given a notice of termination, although he declined and was vindicated by a CHA audit, the release said.
“We hope to win some relief for these tenants and affirmative action, including staff training at the very least, in order to make sure that Horizon never violates the Fair Housing Ordinance again. An organization like JASC should not have to divert its valuable time and resources simply to enforce the existing law,” said Betsy Shuman-Moore of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee.
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