July 24, 2015

HUD celebrates 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

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Photo: 25th anniversary of the ADA. The Americans with Disabilities Act. HUD Celebrates 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act. HUD works every day to ensure equal housing opportunities for people with disabilities.

As the nation celebrates the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), HUD acknowledges the tremendous challenges people with disabilities continue to face and rededicate ourselves to ensuring that everyone in our society has the benefit of equal treatment.

The ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination, guaranteeing that people with disabilities have the same opportunity to participate in the mainstream of American life as everyone else.  Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — the ADA is an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities.

Among its many provisions, the ADA applies to housing programs administered by state and local governments, such as public housing authorities, and by places of public accommodation, such as public and private universities, shelters, and social service centers.  In addition to the ADA, the Fair Housing Act applies to nearly all types of housing, both public and privately-owned, including housing covered by the ADA.  HUD administratively enforces the Fair Housing Act and ADA housing provisions to address and remedy housing discrimination against persons with disabilities.  Also, HUD works in partnership with the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to enforce civil rights laws prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of disability, as well as race, color, national origin, sex, religion, and familial status.

But despite these long-standing federal protections, discrimination against persons with disabilities persists. In fiscal year 2014 alone, more than half of the 8,468 housing discrimination complaints filed with HUD and its Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) agencies alleged housing discrimination based on disability, including persons with disabilities being turned away from available housing, new multifamily dwellings being constructed without the required accessible elements, and housing providers refusing to allow residents with disabilities to have the assistance animal they need to carry out life’s daily functions.

In a recent case in New Hampshire, for example, the owner of a condominium had difficulty walking more than 50 feet at a time because of a spinal cord injury. Making matters worse was the fact that the parking space assigned to his unit made it necessary for him to climb a set of stairs to get to his front door. He asked for permission to use the visitor’s parking lot, which was accessible and also near his front door, but was denied. He ultimately filed a fair housing complaint with HUD, which is currently being litigated.

In another case, the owner and operator of a 500-unit HUD-subsidized apartment complex in DeKalb, Illinois, agreed to pay $255,000 to settle allegations that they failed to meet the needs of residents with disabilities and retaliated against a resident for requesting a reasonable accommodation.

Just last November HUD reached a $104,000 settlement agreement with Mt. Laurel, NJ-based Freedom Mortgage Corporation, resolving allegations that it discriminated against loan applicants with disabilities by requiring them to provide medical or other documentation regarding their disability.

And there are other indicators of the challenges persons with disabilities face when it comes to housing. Three weeks ago a HUD commissioned study conducted by the Urban Institute showed that individuals who use wheelchairs are more likely to be denied an appointment to view recently advertised rental housing in buildings with accessible units than home seekers who are ambulatory. That same study showed that when wheelchair users ask to make reasonable modifications to make their housing more accessible their requests are denied or the housing provider doesn’t provide a clear response a quarter of the time.

In a nation founded on the principles of justice and equality, no person with a disability should have to endure unlawful discrimination.

As we commemorate the enactment of this historic civil rights law, let us renew our commitment to working with our federal and state partners to realize the promise of the ADA in inclusive and sustainable communities that are free from discrimination.

If you feel you’ve been discriminated against, learn how  you can do something about it.

Gustavo Velasquez is the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

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