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ACLU Sues CHA Over Tenants' Drug Testing Policy

By aaroncynic in News on Aug 15, 2013 7:30PM

Photo credit: Kymberly Janisch

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed suit against the Chicago Housing Authority challenging its drug testing policy of residents. The class action suit, filed on behalf of lead plaintiff Joseph Peery, demands that the CHA stop the process and pay the plaintiffs' legal fees.

Peery has lived in the Parkside of Old Town mixed income housing development since 2010, and previously lived in another CHA apartment in the same area. He and the ACLU maintain he has never used drugs. According to a press release, Peery worked in the 90s to dissuade youth in Cabrini Green from using drugs and has passed the screening four times.

“It’s like CSI, it’s like a crime scene or something,” Peery told WBEZ. “Makes you feel like a criminal and you haven’t done anything.” The ACLU says that CHA’s policy, which the Sun-Times reports was instituted as part of its “Plan for Transformation,” assumes that Peery and other residents are guilty of drug use simply by being public housing residents. The ACLU also says the drug screenings violate Fourth Amendment rights. Attorney Karen Sheley said:

“There’s no question that being forced to urinate into a cup, hand over the urine and have it tested by the government is a search that can violate the Fourth Amendment. In this instance, the government would have to come up with a really good reason for why Mr. Peery’s privacy and all the other CHA tenants’ privacy would be violated.”

The CHA said residents must “follow property rules.” Spokesperson Wendy Parks told the Sun Times “...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 is part of an ongoing battle between the ACLU and CHA. Two years ago, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed only 51 out of 1,500 persons 18 and older living in mixed income housing tested positive for drugs over a period of several years.