JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The city of Jackson is settling a lawsuit by the Justice Department by allowing group homes for people recovering from drug or alcohol abuse.
City and federal lawyers on Wednesday jointly asked U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate to approve the settlement.
The Justice Department sued in September, saying Jackson was discriminating against disabled people by trying to shut down a group home run by Urban Rehab.
The city will pay $100,000 to Urban Rehab owner Philip Massey, $35,000 to the federal government as a civil penalty, and $50,000 to a settlement fund to compensate anyone else who may have been harmed. Jackson has agreed to revise its zoning code and ease other restrictions, as well as to train city employees, appoint a fair housing compliance officer, and make reports to the Justice Department.
The city forced Urban Rehab to close in 2014, saying that its ordinances didn't allow unrelated people with substance abuse diagnoses to live together. The federal government swiftly intervened, noting Jackson had agreed to a consent decree allowing group homes for people with disabilities in 1997, and had later been found in contempt of that consent decree in 2002.
City politics have been roiled over allowing group homes for recovering addicts in recent years. Most scrutiny had focused on another operator, Maryland-based Oxford House, which became the subject of protests after opening a house in an affluent Jackson neighborhood in 2015.
In 2015, Gov. Phil Bryant asked the state Department of Mental Health to stop providing seed loans to Oxford House after a state senator got involved in the dispute. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann ordered Oxford House to stop soliciting charitable contributions, saying it hadn't registered as a charity in the state.
Other Mississippi cities have also faced controversies over zoning for social service facilities. Petal settled a suit last year to allow groups of four or fewer people with disabilities to live in residential areas. The same group home operator at issue in Petal sued Moss Point in 2014 over efforts to close a similar three-person home there, with federal court records showing he settled for $5,000.
Ocean Springs paid $437,000 in damages to the owner of the Psycamore mental health clinic after refusing to allow it to open there. The Justice Department cited the city for discriminating against people with mental disabilities. The property owner is still suing the city in federal court.