Recognizing April 2014 as Fair Housing Month

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

Woman in Wheelchair In the Kitchen 1

The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) declares April as Fair Housing Month.  Fair Housing Month is HUD’s way of commemorating the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which was enacted shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex, and family status.  More recent protections were added to prevent housing discrimination based on one’s source of income.

In addition to the legal protection of the aforementioned identifiers, twenty states, the District of Columbia, and more than 150 cities, have expanded the Fair Housing Act to forbid discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and families.  HUD established regulations to ensure that the Department’s core housing programs are available to all eligible recipients, regardless of their sexual orientation, in 2012.

The following quote from HUD’s Acting FHEO Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene explains why celebrating Fair Housing Month is so important:

Fair Housing Month is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on just how far we’ve come to make our housing more equitable and how far we still have to go to end housing discrimination.  Fair housing is about giving people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and whenever this opportunity is denied, not only do families lose, our entire nation loses.

When it comes to disability, HUD developed the Disability Rights in Private and Public Housing Initiative.  Below are the rights people with disabilities have under the Federal laws that focus on housing:

Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities.  It is unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent or sell to a person simply because of a disability.

Requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.  A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.

Requires housing providers to allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications.  A reasonable modification is a structural modification that is made to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities.

Requires that new covered multifamily housing be designed and constructed to be accessible.

(Excerpted from HUD’s Disability Rights in Housing webpage.)

This year’s theme is “Fair Housing Is Your Right:  Use It!”  HUD aims to raise awareness about your housing rights, and discuss the overt and covert forms of housing discrimination that still persists today.  I have read and written stories about housing discrimination, and am aware that key legislation like the Fair Housing Act are steps toward the right direction in creating equality and justice; however, more has to be done to ensure that all Americans, regardless of their disability status and other identifiers, are afforded the same opportunities to obtain housing that fits their needs.

During Fair Housing Month, how do you plan to ramp your voice about the housing discriminatory practices that exist to prevent people with disabilities, LGBT members, minorities, and other groups from accessing housing?  If you have experienced such discrimination in your quest in obtaining housing, are you willing to share your story?  What actions can be taken within your community to bridge the gaps in creating available housing options for those with disabilities, minorities, LGBT members, and other groups?  Share your stories, thoughts, and ideas with me to commemorate this observance.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of the New York Times.)

Reverse Discrimination When Housing Those with Disabilities

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

Is it possible for reverse discrimination to occur when housing those with disabilities?  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) believes so as it proclaimed that the Apache ASL apartments in Tempe, Arizona needs to rent 75 percent of its apartment units to those without disabilities.  The apartment complex have been accused of discriminating against individuals who are not deaf, or have other forms of disabilities.  This charge has spearheaded outrage, especially since HUD funded $2.6 million to establish the project that would allow those with hearing impairments to acquire appropriate housing for their needs.

Example of a Videophone GadgetApache ASL apartments are a handful of housing facilities available in the United States that are specifically designed for those with hearing impairments.  Each apartment unit has the following accommodations:  wheelchair accessibility, blinking light sensors that activate when the doorbell rings and the garbage disposal is in use, and a videophone system that allows residents to connect and communicate with their friends and others.  From the wide range of accommodations made available to residents with hearing impairments and other forms of disabilities, Apache ASL apartments seem to be in heavy compliance with HUD’s Disability Rights in Private and Public Housing.  The following are the rights people with disabilities have under the Federal laws that focus on housing:

Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities.  It is unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent or sell to a person simply because of a disability.

Requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.  A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.

Requires housing providers to allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications.  A reasonable modification is a structural modification that is made to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities.

Requires that new covered multifamily housing be designed and constructed to be accessible.

(Excerpt from HUD’s Disability Rights on Housing webpage.)

It is needless to say that occupants of this apartment complex have taken ardent offense to the notion that too many people with disabilities live in the residential facility.  Some residents have voiced that apartment complexes such as Apache ASL apartments have made it possible for them to acquire housing that was created for those with disabilities.  Such accommodating housing units has furthered their abilities to be independent, and to live where they desire.

Is it possible for this apartment complex to be involved in reverse discrimination against those without disabilities?  Are such housing facilities designed for those with disabilities acts of reverse ableism?  Is HUD regressing in its efforts to ensure that people with disabilities are able to access appropriate housing without housing providers worrying about meeting a certain “quota” of resident with disabilities and those without?  What will this mean for future housing projects like Apache ASL apartments?  HUD’s decision to demand that this apartment complex meet certain requirements seems to open a new Pandora Box when it comes to the availability of housing options for those with disabilities.

I am interested in learning your reactions to HUD’s complaint, and the implications it could have on those who seek to have the same standard of living as their able-bodied counterparts that meet their specific needs.  Email me at Vilissa@rampyourvoice.com with your thoughts and concerns regarding this story and HUD’s response.  

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of The Guardian.)

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