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DOJ Investigates Metro Council For Possible Violation Of Fair Housing Act

The Department of Justice is investigating the Louisville Metro Council over concerns that the body may have violated the Fair Housing Act in rejecting a proposed affordable senior housing project in Prospect last October.

"The focus of our investigation will be whether Metro Council has unlawfully discriminated on the basis of race in the enactment of Ordinance O-326-17, which rejected the rezoning application of LDG Multifamily, LLC," Civil Rights division chief Sameena Shina Majeed wrote to Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell in a letter received last Tuesday.

In its letter, the DOJ asked Metro Council to maintain all documents, recordings, correspondence and more related to the ordinance and the project since January 1, 2016. It gave the Council 30 days to respond to a variety of requests, including for copies of a current Louisville Metro zoning map and of all documents related to the ordinance in question.

In October, the Metro Council voted 14 to 11 in favor of rejecting a planned development in the upscale suburb Prospect that would have provided affordable housing to low-income seniors. All nine of the council's Republicans and five Democrats voted to kill the project, which had drawn criticism from area residents that some said was racially motivated.

Metro Councilman David James, now council president, was one of the Democrats who voted against the project in October. The council "welcomes" the DOJ investigation, he said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

"I have no reason to believe that any Council Members voted with the intent to deny anyone their civil rights," James said in the statement. "Our debate and subsequent vote was to insure [sic] Louisville moves forward with Affordable Housing in a good and positive direction throughout our City.”

Last month, James told WFPL he is "110 percent supportive" of affordable housing.

"Just because I voted against a particular project does not mean that I'm against affordable housing, it means I was against that project," he said. He declined to comment on why he voted against the Prospect Cove project, citing ongoing litigation.

The project's developer, LDG Multifamily, LLC, sued Metro Council following the October vote. It alleged the council violated the Fair Housing Act and the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause in its decision.

The Jefferson County Attorney will not be representing the Metro Council on this matter, communications director Josh Abner wrote in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

"There are multiple conflicts of interest related to Ordinance No. O-326-17 and LDG Multifamily LLC vs. Louisville Metro Council," Abner said. "Outside counsel has been retained for both Louisville Metro Council and Louisville Metro Government.”

He said Louisville attorney John Hanley of Valenti Hanley PLLC has been retained as outside counsel for the investigation.

In a letter to Metro Council members sent Monday, County Attorney O'Connell urged the representatives to comply with the Department of Justice's requests. He said responses to the requests are due March 14, 2018.

Read the letters from the Department of Justice and the Jefferson County Attorney below.

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Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.