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Jordan Marsh’s cover story “Targeted for Removal?” (October 23) rightly ponders the reasons behind the settlement, and nontrial, of the Addison lawsuit, characterized by Marsh as the “largest and most contentious housing-discrimination case in recent history.” But Marsh wrongly implies a conspiracy of silence between the Department of Justice and the Addison defendants. A more likely explanation, only hinted at in Marsh’s one-sided account, is that Addison had a solid defense of implementing an antiblight and anticrowding program in the six-county area’s most overcrowded suburban neighborhood.

Marsh seems to downplay the severity of overcrowding in the targeted areas in central Addison. He also errs in suggesting that Addison was guilty of housing bias because its renewal program disproportionately impacted Mexicans. He quotes plaintiff Rita Gonzalez to the effect that previous immigrants from Italy and Poland lived in equally crowded conditions in central Addison and were not targeted for renewal.

Overcrowding there zoomed by 156 percent between 1980 and 1990, from 9 percent to 23 percent, the highest gain among neighborhoods in the Chicago area. In 1990, Mexicans had six times the overcrowding rates of Italians and Poles, and ten times that of Anglos. These disparities create a coincidental relation between overcrowded and Latino neighborhoods.

Latinos, blacks, and Asians are the dominant ethnic residents of the Chicago area’s 557 most overcrowded neighborhoods. But the Fair Housing Act of 1968 does not exempt minorities from housing code laws. The Supreme Court decided in Davis, 426 U.S. 229 (1976) that a neutral rule, particularly one with a compelling public interest such as minimum housing standards, overrides the coincidental negative impact of such a rule on a minority, and the minority so burdened is not entitled to relief.

Overcrowding is a serious violation of municipal housing codes that threatens, if left unchecked, to unleash a spiral of housing decay, family disorganization, and street crime. Present trends suggest that such a fate awaits Addison and similarly impacted older suburbs if they are not allowed to protect their neighborhoods from the depredation of overcrowding, housing blight, and decay.

Pierre deVise

W. Henderson

Jordan Marsh replies:

The plaintiffs’ argument, as I understand it, is not that Addison doesn’t have the right to protect itself against overcrowding and other ills, but that it cannot do so in a discriminatory manner or as a pretext for removing Hispanics from Addison. Whether the village’s actions were, in fact, unconstitutional or in violation of the Fair Housing Act was a decision for the courts.