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We helped get Karyn into a house. And educated a community on making her feel at home.

Karyn Berry has developmental disabilities and is non-verbal. She had lived in Summit County for a long time with her dad, Tom, as her guardian. But as Tom got older, he realized it was getting more and more difficult for him to care for her.

“I started talking about buying a house for Karyn,” he says. Summit Housing develops and maintains housing for people with disabilities. Working with Tom, they found and purchased a house, and Karyn was slated to move in on September 1, 2015, along with three other women with developmental disabilities.

The problems started when neighbors uncovered that the house was owned by a business and would be a home for people with disabilities. Marietta’s law director and a private attorney believed that the plans for the house were in violation of zoning and private deed restrictions.

Susan Tilton, the Superintendent of the Washington County Board of Developmental Disabilities, took action and called Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) on behalf of the women on Friday, August 21, requesting the agency’s help.

“The DRO team believed that stereotypes, fear and discrimination were at work, and that if the city took action to prevent the women from moving into their home this would violate the Fair Housing Act,” says Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt, DRO’s Director of Advocacy.

By Monday, August 24, DRO had prepared a letter to the Marietta law director and City Council, citing the Fair Housing Act and requesting that accommodations be made for the women and their home. DRO team members drove to Marietta for a second public hearing on Tuesday, August 25. Kerstin was the first to speak when the issue was opened for public comment.

“We wanted to set the tone,” she explains. “I made it clear that this is a home, not a business. They want to be part of the community. As people raised questions, I responded and explained. It was really about educating and informing the council and the neighbors.”

Karyn and her housemates moved in on September 1, and the council voted unanimously to approve the reasonable accommodation request on September 17.

When asked if DRO helped make a difference, Rosie Reed, the guardian of one of Karyn’s housemates, had nothing but glowing words. “I think that DRO made a big difference, coming into the council meeting,” she explains. “DRO really set a tone that this is bigger than four women on Pebble Drive, this goes back to the Fair Housing Act and civil rights.”

Even better, she hears that the council is planning to pursue some grant funding to write a plan to be more proactive about similar situations. “I think they’ll do things better,” she says. “Because of this, people will be helped in the future.”

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