Lawsuit ruling seen as possible bellwether for Tinley Park
John Petruszak hopes a federal court judge will uphold a housing discrimination lawsuit filed against Tinley Park and spur the kind of community change he’s spent more than two decades fighting for.
“Our mission has always been to foster unitary public housing where people in the south suburbs can reside wherever they want,” Petruszak, the executive director of the South Suburban Housing Center (SSHC), told the South Cook News. “Tinley Park has always been a stumbling block.”
The judge is expected to rule this month on the village’s motion to dismiss a Justice Department Civil Rights Division lawsuit alleging that the village violated federal law by blocking a developer from building an apartment complex earmarked for “low, very low and extremely low income households.”
Tinley Park officials have argued the agency overreached and village leaders' objections stem from concerns about the federally financed construction not meeting all village requirements.
As part of their motion to dismiss, village officials contend the three-story, 47-unit building is required to have ground floor commercial space and that former development director Amy Connolly misled plan commission and village board officials to get them to approve zoning amendments for its construction.
Soon after the plan was shelved by the board, village officials reached a $2.45 million settlement with proposed project developer Buckeye Community SixtyNine LP over the lost contract.
“I kept hoping they would settle their dispute about what was required for the project and the developer could go forward,” Petruszak said. “But in the end, they conceded to public pressure.”
Many in the community came out in opposition to the plan.
Petruszak said it's nothing he hasn't seen before. Over the years, SSHC’s data has been used in similar matters regarding Tinley Park’s historically low numbers of African-Americans.
“There’s no type of welcoming for African-Americans in the village,” he said, noting that many residents say they are concerned about lower property values and higher crime rates.
“Working people in the area would have greatly benefited from being able to live there,” Petruszak said. “The last federal lawsuit this agency filed was against a Realtor who refused to rent to African-Americans.”
Also an attorney, Petruszak said village officials have used various zoning codes to make certain affordable housing does not come to the area.
“I’ve been monitoring the housing market there for over 20 years, and nothing has changed,” he said.