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HUD No. 97-121
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The Department of Housing and Urban Development has settled five fair housing complaints that were filed with the agency against an apartment complex and several developers and builders for failing to meet the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act, Secretary Cuomo announced today.

Cuomo made the announcement during a meeting with a group of disability rights organizations to discuss the Department's progress in enforcing the Fair Housing Act's accessibility requirements.

During the same meeting, Cuomo announced that the Department will fund a first-ever nationwide study to document the rate of compliance with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act. The study will look at projects across the country and interview architects and builders to determine why some comply and others do not. The information will be used to effectively target HUD's education and enforcement efforts.

The cases settled by HUD involve housing developments in Atlanta, Ga., Henderson, Nev., Boise, Idaho, and Akron, Ohio, that had doorways disabled persons could not use, inaccessible rental offices, kitchens and bathrooms that were too small to accommodate wheelchairs, and bathroom walls not strong enough to support grab bars.

"Persons with disabilities have the right to live where they choose. But in some of these developments a wheelchair could not have gotten through the front door," Cuomo said. "This is inexcusable. There is no acceptable reason why any individual should be denied the full use of his or her home. It's unfair, it's illegal, and this Department won't tolerate it."

Under the Fair Housing Act, all dwellings built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. The law covers all buildings having four or more units, regardless of whether they are multifamily or single- family, privately-owned or publicly funded. In particular, all units in elevator-serviced buildings and all ground floor units in buildings without elevators must include accessible entrances, usable doors, accessible routes into and through units, and accessible public and common-use areas such as community rooms, rental offices, recreation areas and dining halls. In addition, every dwelling must include accessible light switches and environmental controls, reinforced walls for grab bars, and usable kitchens and bathrooms.

Each of the five settlement agreements call for specific actions the developers and builders must take to bring their properties into compliance with the Fair Housing Act. The agreements also provide for the creation of 233 new accessible units. The victims of discrimination will receive $35,000 in compensation, and an additional $25,000 will be set aside to pay for modifications needed to create accessible housing.

Atlanta, Ga. (Settled July 16)

This complaint was filed by Metro Fair Housing Services, an Atlanta-based fair housing group, against St. Andrews Apartments for having 100 inaccessible ground floor units. The 25-building development consists of 228 units. The Department also noted that there were inaccessible routes to buildings, public and common use areas, and thermostats, and bathrooms that were inaccessible to persons who use wheelchairs.

The agreement provides for retrofitting and making modifications to the units, making the public and common use areas accessible, and provides for $10,000 in relief for the complainants.

Henderson, Nev. (Settled July 16)

Robert Toso, now deceased, filed a complaint with the Department against Gateway Development, Hoskins Engineers, Incorporated and Charlemont Homeowners Association because the condominium development's public and common use areas and dwelling units were not accessible.

The agreement provides $17,000 in monetary compensation to Toso's widow, Nancy, and establishes a $10,000 escrow account to be used for future modifications to 54 ground floor units at the property. The funds are available to all current and future owners for a period of six years. In addition, the respondents agreed to make the public and common use areas accessible and usable by persons with disabilities, and incorporate modifications that include making the clubhouse accessible and providing accessible parking.

Henderson, Nev. (Settled July 15)

This complaint was filed by Donald Sheffer, a disabled person who uses a wheelchair, against Gem Homes, Inc., Gem Development company, Cha Cha Cha, Ltd., Siefert Development and Stout Management, because 64 ground-floor units at Cha Cha Cha Apartments failed to meet Federal accessibility requirements.

The agreement requires the respondents to pay Sheffer $2,000, and retrofit the ground-floor units and common areas, including removing steps and/or adding ramps to enable persons using wheelchairs to enter apartments, widening sidewalks, adding curb cuts, extending the sidewalk to the child play area, and repositioning thermostats in the units. Respondents are also required to report future development plans to HUD.

Boise, Idaho (Settled July 15)

This settlement involves two complaints filed by the Idaho Fair Housing Council and a wheelchair-user tester against the owners and architects of apartments in Boise because many of the units were not accessible.

The settlement provides $3,500 for education and outreach that includes advertising the availability of accessible units. The owner also must make six existing or new construction units that would not otherwise be subject to the Act's requirements accessible. In all covered properties developed in the future, in addition to meeting the Act's accessibility requirements, at least 10 percent and no less than 1 unit per project must be fully accessible.

Akron, Ohio (Settled June 9)

This complaint was filed by a private fair housing group against the company that built Forest Cove East Condominiums in Green, Ohio, because the building had nine ground-floor units that were not accessible. The agreement requires the builder to place $15,000 in an interest bearing escrow account to provide for future modifications to the units.

"By entering into these agreements, the owners and builders have agreed to make things right," said Susan Forward, deputy assistant secretary for Enforcement and Investigations. "Existing housing will be redesigned and more accessible housing will be built. Just as important, these developers have agreed to become a resource for the future, helping HUD educate the public about their right to accessible housing."

Cuomo also told the group about funds HUD will make available for new Fair Housing Initiatives Program grants. For the first time, HUD will set aside $1.3 million to help organizations that focus on disability rights issues. The set- aside also targets funds to organizations run by and for persons with disabilities, as opposed to more traditional fair housing groups for which disability is not the primary focus and which rarely include persons with disabilities on their staffs or boards.

"We can build housing that provides persons with disabilities greater freedom in choosing where they want to live," Cuomo said. "It is one of the primary charges of this Department and one that I am totally committed to carrying out. To do less would be to fail thousands of individuals who have a fundamental right to have the full use of their living environments."


Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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