Housing Project Allowed To Refuse Mentally Ill Applicant


In 1980, a non-profit group in Cleveland, Ohio, applied for federal funds to renovate a former Franciscan Monastery. Our Lady of Angels Apartments, Inc., used the money to turn the former monastery into housing for the elderly and disabled. A decade later, Our Lady of Angels was sued by a prospective tenant over allegations that they did not provide housing for the mentally ill.

Our Lady of Angels made the conversion into housing for the elderly under the National Housing Act of 1959. That law set up federal loan programs to encourage development of housing projects. When Our Lady of Angels first proposed what became known as Franciscan Village, it planned to “provide housing and appropriate support service to persons over sixty-two years of age or physically handicapped.” The loan was approved, and the conversion was completed.

In 1988, Congress adopted amendments to the Fair Housing Act. Those amendments prohibit discrimination on the basis of handicap, regardless of the nature of the handicap. Some advocates have argued that the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988 require programs like Franciscan Village to accept all disabled applicants, regardless of the nature of the disability.

Also in 1988, Roseanne Beckert applied to be put on the waiting list for Franciscan Village. She indicated that she was disabled, but did not describe her disability. When an opening developed in 1993, Ms. Beckert filled out the formal application, indicating that her disability was a “mental-schizo” condition, and that she was being treated with medication. Our Lady of Angels determined that she was neither elderly nor physically handicapped, and declined her application to reside at Franciscan Village.

Ms. Beckert sued, claiming that the Fair Housing Act Amendments prohibited Our Lady of Angels from choosing to accept only applicants with certain kinds of disabilities. In response, Our Lady of Angels pointed to its federal loan application, which specifically noted that it did not possess the skills or resources to handle the mentally ill or developmentally disabled. Nothing in the new law adopted in 1988, argued Our Lady of Angels, required that they begin accepting handicapped applicants of all ages, regardless of the nature of their disability.

The Federal District Court in Cleveland agreed with Our Lady of Angels, and dismissed Ms. Beckert’s lawsuit. She appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the appellate judges also agreed with Our Lady of Angels’ arguments. Ms. Beckert will not be entitled to move into a federally-funded housing program designed for the elderly and physically disabled. Beckert v. Our Lady of Angels Apartments, Inc., Sept. 27, 1999.

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