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CUOMO ISSUES LANDMARK ORDER IN HOUSING DISCRMINATION CASE REQUIRING ACCESSIBILITY MODIFICATIONS FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
WASHINGTON - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo today intensified HUD's crackdown on housing discrimination by issuing a landmark order that for the first time requires a builder to make modifications to completed housing units so they are accessible to people with disabilities.
Cuomo's order requires modifications by the builder to eight condominium units in Crest Hill, IL, at a total estimated cost of at least $61,000. On top of this, the architect of the condominium project has agreed to pay an additional $9,000 to settle housing discrimination accusations. The Secretary's order affirms a decision by HUD Chief Administrative Law Judge Alan W. Heifetz under the Fair Housing Act. The decision is the first ever requiring a builder to make all necessary modifications to completed housing to make it accessible to people with disabilities.
"This decision tells everyone in the housing industry that HUD will strictly and vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act to protect the rights of people with disabilities," Cuomo said. "If you build housing in violation of the Fair Housing Act we will find you and we will require you to make any changes necessary to comply with the law."
HUD brought the civil action on behalf of the Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living, a service and advocacy organization for people with disabilities in Will and Grundy Counties in Illinois. Judge Heifetz ruled that Perland Corp. and its president/owner William Persico, of Crest Hill, IL, discriminated against the Center for Independent Living because eight ground-floor units at Meadow View Terrace Condominiums were not accessible to people with disabilities - in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
"Our Center knows from experience that the fair housing law concerning people with disabilities has been largely ignored by architects and developers," said Pam Heavens, Executive Director of the Center for Independent Living. "The judge's ruling for retrofitting should send a clear message to architects and developers that designing accessible multifamily housing is not an option - it's the law. We are very hopeful that this decision will set a precedent so that more people with disabilities will enjoy real choices when determining where they want to live."
Cuomo said the architect involved in the case settled separately. Thomas A. Buchar & Associates, Inc. of Joliet, IL agreed to pay $1,000 in damages to the Center for Independent Living and to pay $8,000 into an escrow fund to be made available to residents of Will County, to pay for future modifications to make housing accessible to people with disabilities.
The Fair Housing Act, enacted in 1968, was broadened in 1989 to outlaw housing discrimination against people with disabilities. It also bars housing discrimination on account of race, color, religion, sex, family status and national origin.
The Act requires that all apartment buildings and condominiums built since March 13, 1991 have units that are accessible to wheelchairs on the first floor and - if there are elevators - on upper floors as well.
A HUD-commissioned study found that if builders comply with the Fair Housing Act during construction, their costs rise by only about one-third of one percent. However, remodeling a building that has already been constructed can cost a great deal more.
Heifetz's decision, which was affirmed by Cuomo's order, said Perland Corp. and Persico must:
The law gives Perland and Persico the right to appeal HUD's ruling to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago within 30 days.
HUD began a stepped-up campaign against housing discrimination in September at President Clinton's direction, as part of the President's One America Initiative.
This past fiscal year, as a result of HUD's crackdown, HUD obtained $9.6 million in relief for individuals in housing discrimination settlements - compared with $4.4 million the year before.
President Clinton's proposed 1999 federal budget seeks $22 million in increased funding for HUD to intensify the fight against housing discrimination. The 73 percent increase for HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity would boost spending by the office to $52 million. If approved by Congress, it would be the largest single budget increase in civil rights law enforcement in two decades.
The Fair Housing Act covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation. Fair housing investigations are conducted by HUD investigators, state and city agencies working with HUD, and private fair housing groups that receive HUD funds.
People who believe they have been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777 or by filing a complaint with HUD directly over the Internet.
Content Archived: January 20, 2009