Undesirable Land Use: Chicago May Have Violated RLUIPA By Denying License To House Homeless

Monday, December 03, 2018 6:25 am
December 2018 - Volume 46 Number 12

A religious organization can go to trial to prove that the City of Chicago substantially burdened its exercise of religion by refusing to give it a license to use an old YMCA to house homeless people.

Facts: In 2005, the World Outreach Conference Center (World Outreach), a religious organization, bought an old YMCA in an impoverished area of Chicago. The YMCA had used its facility as both a gym and as temporary housing for otherwise homeless people. The building’s use for single-room occupancy (SRO) is no longer a permitted use under the City of Chicago’s zoning ordinance, but the SRO use was grandfathered as a legal nonconforming use. The City continued to allow the YMCA to rent out the rooms as long as the YMCA obtained an SRO license each year.

After World Outreach bought the building, the City stopped granting an SRO license, even though World Outreach planned to use the building in the exact same way that the YMCA had. One reason that the City gave for refusing to grant the SRO license was that World Outreach didn’t have a special use permit. However, as a matter of law, World Outreach did not need a special use permit under the City’s own ordinance to continue on with the legal nonconforming use of the bui[..]