Sandy Springs has settled with a housing nonprofit that filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the city. The founder of the nonprofit said the agreement won’t change its operations in practice.
“It will be business as usual,” said Lucy Hall, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Mary Hall Freedom House.
The city had cited the nonprofit several times over more than a year, alleging it was operating a drug treatment facility out of condos it purchased in 2017, which would violate zoning rules. MHFH filed a lawsuit in late 2018 claiming the city was trying to push out minorities and disabled people.
The city’s citations and MHFH’s lawsuit have been dropped as part of the settlement, which requires the nonprofit get its offices rezoned and not provide any services out of the condos, according to a city-issued statement.
“I am proud that we were able to bring this matter to a resolution,” City Attorney Dan Lee said in the statement. “The city’s goal in taking legal action was compliance with the zoning law, which safeguards not only the character of the neighborhood, but the residents who live there, including women enrolled in rehabilitation programming conducted by Mary Hall Freedom House.”
Hall said she was glad to end the legal battles and that she is “satisfied” with the agreement.
“The bottom line is I’m just tired. I’m emotionally drained from negotiating with the city that could have just sat down with me from the start,” she said.
The city said it received complaints from residents of MHFH and of the remaining tenant-owned condos at the Reserve of Dunwoody at 9400 Roberts Drive about the services being provided out of the condos. Those “social services” were in conflict with the city’s zoning ordinances, the statement said.
Hall maintains that MHFH only allowed its clients to live in the condos, which are located on the city’s north end, and did not provide any services there. The city is hoping to inspire redevelopment on the north end.
The city only wants MHFH to provide services out of its offices at 8595 Roswell Road and not the condos, which the nonprofit has agreed to do, the statement said. The nonprofit will also apply to rezone with the offices Roswell Road to be classified under a zoning district that permits drug treatment, according to the statement.
Additionally, none of the MHFH residents had a lease that would allow them rights of occupancy because tenancy was directly connected to the treatment they were receiving, according to the statement. MHFH will now provide leases of at least six months to tenants, the statement said.
The MHFH board has issued a resolution adopting and agreeing to the settlement, stating its intent to comply with the terms, the statement said.
The nonprofit’s previous strategies to fight the city’s legal challenges have included enlisting a public relations firm that brought in former Atlanta Mayor, U.S. Representative and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young. It also launched a website, which appears to have been deactivated, directly targeting Mayor Rusty Paul called “ShameOnRustyPaul.com.”
Supporters of MHFH, including some top local religious leaders, demonstrated at a recent City Council meeting, wearing orange T-shirts that said “We Are ‘You People’,” referencing a statement a top city official is alleged to have said. Some local church leaders and other supporters gathered in February for a prayer vigil.