By Phillip Smith
The ACLU of Illinois Thursday filed a class-action lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) over its policy requiring drug testing of residents in mixed-income developments. The ACLU charges in US District Court that the CHA’s policy of suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment’s proscription on unreasonable searches and seizures.
A positive drug test would lead to the eviction of the resident.
The CHA instituted the mixed-income residence drug testing program as part of its “Plan for Transformation,” which tore down many of the city’s crime-ridden high-rise housing developments and replaced them with mixed-income developments. Residents of the demolished low-income housing developments were given the option of moving into the new properties, but were required to take an initial drug test and be tested again every time the lease was renewed.
“Through the CHA’s mixed-income program, public housing families reside in housing that is new, privately-owned and privately operated, alongside market-rate and affordable renters. One of the requirements of renters is that they follow property rules,” CHA spokeswoman Wendy Parks said in a statement Wednesday. “And if those rules happen to include drug testing, then public housing families — like their market-rate and affordable renter neighbors — must adhere to those rules.”
The suit, filed on behalf of lead plaintiff Joseph Peery, is seeking a temporary injunction to block drug testing and a permanent ban on the practice. It also asks that the CHA be ordered to pay plaintiffs’ legal fees.
“Mr. Peery repeatedly has taken and passed a suspicionless drug test,” the lawsuit says. “Mr. Peery is a law-abiding person, and does not use illegal drugs. He strongly objects to the CHA’s suspicionless drug testing. He finds it humiliating and invasive, and it makes him feel stigmatized as a presumptive criminal and drug user.”
“I’m required to go into the business office, urinate in a jar, then hand it to an office staffer. Anyone working in or visiting the office can watch the process,” Peery said at a Wednesday press conference. “It’s embarrassing. You can only imagine how the grandmothers in the developments feel. We’re being singled out in public housing. It’s not fair.”
“This misguided policy unfairly stigmatizes Mr. Peery and CHA residents like him,” said Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel at the ACLU of Illinois. “It presumes he is guilty of illegal drug use, solely because he is a public housing resident, until he proves otherwise with a drug test.”
“No one should have to suffer an invasion of their privacy—like forced urinalysis—in order to live in their own home,” added ACLU staff attorney Karen Sheley.