East Chicago Residents, Local Housing Officials Settle Civil Rights Complaint

Over 1,100 residents of the West Calumet public housing complex are currently being displaced because of lead and arsenic contamination.



Michelle Nicolet, Marketing Director, Shriver Center
312.368.2675, mnicolet@povertylaw.org

Chicago, IL — Officials from the East Chicago Housing Authority (ECHA), and current and former ECHA residents (Complainants) have reached a settlement in a civil rights complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in regards to the relocation efforts underway in East Chicago, Indiana — where over 1,100 residents are currently being displaced because of lead and arsenic contamination.

The settlement will ensure that current and former residents of the West Calumet public housing complex are provided comprehensive relocation assistance, including mobility counseling, more time to identify housing, additional assistance for persons with disabilities, abatement of rent, and inspections of their new housing to ensure it is safe from lead and arsenic contamination. The settlement also provides that households who left the complex as of July 22, 2015, may be entitled to a Housing Choice Voucher. They should contact the East Chicago Housing Authority to see if they are eligible.

The civil rights complaint was filed on August 29th by the Shriver Center on behalf of six current and former West Calumet residents and a coalition of concerned citizens, Calumet Lives Matter.

“We are confident this new and revamped relocation program will provide residents the help they need to find new safe and decent housing. We care about our residents and want them to be safe,” said Tia Cauley, Executive Director of ECHA.

“This agreement underscores ECHA’s commitment to respecting the rights of residents as it fulfills its mission to provide and develop quality affordable housing opportunities for individuals and families while promoting self-sufficiency and neighborhood revitalization,” said Jewell Harris, Jr., Attorney for ECHA. 

The West Calumet Housing Complex was built on the site of a former lead smelting plant in 1972. The site became the target of federal cleanup through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Superfund program in 2009. Residents were first informed their soil was contaminated on July 22, 2016, through a letter sent by the Mayor of East Chicago, Anthony Copeland. Officials have since been working to relocate residents.

“We applaud the diligence and cooperation demonstrated by officials from HUD and ECHA to resolve this complaint,” said Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice at the Shriver Center. “We look forward to continuing to work with local and federal housing officials to ensure the residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex receive nothing short of what they need and are legally entitled to: a safe, fair, humane relocation.”

The Shriver Center on Poverty Law fights for economic and racial justice. Over our 50-year history, we have secured hundreds of victories with and for people living in poverty in Illinois and across the country. Today, we litigate, shape policy, and train and convene multi-state networks of lawyers, community leaders, and activists nationwide. Together, we are building a future where all people have equal dignity, respect, and power under the law. Join the fight at povertylaw.org.

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