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A woman living in Meridian, Idaho, who was forced out of her new 252-square-foot mobile home a day after moving into it has filed suit, claiming not only that she was deprived of her home amid a rapidly accelerating housing crisis but that her freedom of speech was violated after she faced alleged retaliation by city authorities for speaking out, according to a new report.
Chasidy Decker purchased the mobile home because she could not afford to buy a house, and arranged for it to be located on Robert Calacal’s land at a cost of $600 per month. After Decker moved into the home in June 2022, however, a neighbor alerted the Meridian Police Department to the new structure, inquiring whether it was legal for Decker to reside in it.
A city code enforcement officer then told Decker and Calacal they could face fines of $1,000 per day and criminal prosecution if she did not move out because the city has a ban on living in mobile homes unless they’re parked in an RV park.
Decker and Calacal are suing the city of Meridian because its action against Decker left her unhoused and because Decker’s free speech was violated through an act of retaliation by code enforcement officers after Decker spoke out in a newspaper article, a blog post from the Institute for Justice states. Since Aug. 1, Decker has been staying at a friend’s house in Meridian.
The city of Meridian permits trailers and recreational vehicles to be parked in residential neighborhoods, but residents are not allowed to live in them.
The Institute for Justice is a non-profit public interest law firm that files constitutional cases in state and federal courts and is representing Decker and Calacal in the case. The lawsuit filed against Meridian brings five claims against the city’s ban and how it violates the Idaho constitution.
The lawsuit also brings a free speech claim forward based on retaliation Decker and Calacal allegedly faced from the Meridian code enforcement officer.
One day after the Idaho Statesman ran a story in June about Decker and her housing problem — which the enforcement officer claimed painted him in a negative light — the enforcement officer came back to the property and cited Decker and Calacal for alleged parking violations which also existed on neighboring properties, but were ignored. A few weeks later, the officer returned to the property yet again, confronted Decker and told her the story made him look bad, and warned her that she would regret it if she pursued legal action against him.
In the Idaho Statesman’s story, Decker said that she believed the 10 days’ notice she was given by the code enforcement officer to rectify her code violation was “unreasonable” given the “sensitive” nature of the situation, especially due to the current state of the housing market and the difficulty of finding a place to park a tiny home in Meridian in which it can also be resided. Decker noted that all the RV parks in the area have two to three-year waiting lists for availability, but also, that most RV parks do not allow tiny homes.
During legal proceedings, Judge Jason Scott of the District Court of Ada County allowed four out of the five claims to proceed, including the free speech claim, but prohibited Decker from being allowed to live in the home while proceedings continue.
“I’m disappointed because I really wish I was living in my home again,” Decker said in a separate Institute for Justice blog post. “But I have high hopes that in the end, something good will happen. And I appreciate that the judge is so engaged with the case, because this is something that affects a lot of people in the housing crisis.”
“Everyone needs a place to live, but the city would rather have Chasidy be homeless than living in a tiny home on wheels parked on private property,” Robert Belden, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, told Business Insider.
“That’s not just wrong, it’s unconstitutional. Making Chasidy homeless does nothing to improve public health, safety or welfare in Meridian, and it certainly doesn’t improve Chasidy’s. At a time when so few affordable housing options are available, why is the city’s zoning ordinance further reducing such options?”
Meridian was the second largest city in Idaho as of the 2020 census, just behind Boise. The city is adjacent to and just west of Boise, which has seen huge price growth in recent years as residents from other pricier states have made the comparatively affordable city their home.
The median home price peaked in Ada County in May 2022 at $602,250, according to a market report released by Boise Regional Realtors at the beginning of November.
In October, the median sales price was $561,500, up 4.0 percent from the previous month and up 5.4 percent year over year. In previous months, the county saw consistent month-over-month declines in median home price since its peak in May.
Home prices in Boise are now approximately 70 percent higher than what the median household income of the city’s residents can afford, according to Oxford Economics.