Fair Housing Training Promotes Independence for Virginians with Disabilities

Friday, April 02, 2004

For a dream to take hold in a society, it must be passed on from person to person, place to place, generation to generation. That's certainly the view of the Norfolk-based Endependence Center, established in 1981 as the first Center for Independent Living in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

[Photo: Fair Housing Act discussion at the Endependence Center]
Vantoria Clay, housing policy coordinator at the Endependence Center, discusses the Fair Housing Act's accessibility requirements to the "Youth in Transition Group" in Norfolk

"Thirty-six years after passage of the Fair Housing Act," notes Richard DiPeppe, the Center's advocacy director, "I am often surprised, even shocked, at how many people still are not aware of the rights and obligations it provides. And that goes double for people with disabilities, a protected class relatively new to the fair housing struggle. Knowledge is power and, based on my travels around Virginia, when it comes to fair housing there's lots more information to provide, lots more empowering to do."

Thanks to a statewide network of 16 Centers for Independent Living and a HUD Fair Housing Initiatives Program grant, that's exactly what the Endependence Center is doing.

During the past year, every staff member at all 16 centers has received training about the provisions of the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Supreme Court's Olmstead decision.

Once that training was completed, the Endependence Center has gone even further, helping each partner host a series of specialized fair housing workshops for local governments and housing authorities, the business community, the general public and, with assistance from the world-renowned Center for Design at North Carolina State University, for builders and developers, planners and architects. To date, almost a 1000 Virginians have attended the 64 fair housing sessions hosted by the Center and its statewide network.

"A half century ago, Virginia was a center of resistance to implementing the changes brought about by the Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. Topeka," DiPeppe recalls.

"Fifty years later, though, the kind of education and outreach this grant has allowed our network to do as well as some of the advocacy we and other fair housing groups in the state have done is, slowly but surely, giving Virginia a reputation for developing innovative strategies in advancing the cause of fair housing.

"Who would have thought just a few years ago that there would come a time when there was at least one person in every corner of the Commonwealth versed in the ins-and-outs, do's-and-don't's of disability rights," DiPeppe adds. "But that information infrastructure is firmly in place in Virginia. Now our job is to make sure that those who are aggrieved, use it to insure that they enjoy the same rights as every other Virginian."

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