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July 20. 2011 9:46PM

Gay advocacy group files lawsuit to save group home

GILSUM - After a gay advocacy group filed suit against the town earlier this month, officials stopped the process last week of seizing a High Street house that operates as a non-profit group home for people with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

In the lawsuit filed by Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders attorney Bennett Klein in Cheshire County Superior Court on July 5, AIDS Services for the Monadnock Region alleges town officials treated the Gilsum group-home program it runs - the Cleve Jones Wellness House - unfairly and was moving to take the house and the 1.4 acre property it sits on for unpaid taxes dating back to 2008.

In court papers, AIDS Services for the Monadnock Region says while it did not file with the town for its non-profit tax exempt status in 2007 - believing the exemption was automatic - and then filed late in 2008 and 2009, the town has a policy of forgiving such errors in cases of "accident, mistake or misfortune."

The town also has a history of looking the other way for other non-profits in town, court papers say.

"From 2004 to present, the Gilsum Veterans Association/American Legion filed applications only twice," the lawsuit says.

Other non-profits are used as examples in the lawsuit.

"The town of Gilsum granted a property tax exemption to the Gilsum Congregational Church in every year from 2005 to 2010 despite the Church's failure to file the required applications in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009, and filing late in 2006 and 2010."

The Cleve Jones House is being discriminated against, Klein said Wednesday. "The town has violated the Equal Protection Rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the National Fair Housing Act by treating them differently with respect to tax exemptions," he said.

The suit asked for a temporary restraining order against the property seizure, a preliminary and permanent injunction, as well as a petition for damages and attorney's fees against the town and involved town officials.

Before a hearing regarding the restraining order scheduled in Superior Court on July 13, the town backed off its claim on the house for now, Klein said.

Town attorney Gary Kinyon did not return a voicemail message on Wednesday; however, Klein said the town is staying its attempt to take possession of the property for back taxes until the issue is resolved in court.

The Cleve Jones House is home to five people - three with HIV/AIDS and two with Hepatitis C.

According to court papers filed by Susan MacNeil, executive director of AIDS Services for the Monadnock Region, the organization has owned and run the property as the Cleve Jones Wellness House since 2006. If her group were to lose the house through the filing of a tax deed by the town, the current residents would become homeless, she wrote. "I am not aware of any other agency that would provide housing to them. This would have disastrous consequences for their medical and mental health as they are unable to live and function on their own."


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