Tuesday, October 22, 2013

HUD: Housing for hearing-impaired has too many deaf residents

"It's nice to have a life that's equivalent to other people that are not deaf," said resident Linda Russell. "This building is designed for deaf people, by deaf people, and we know what is best for our needs. And people that don't understand our needs, should not be putting themselves in decision-making positions for us." Resident of Apache ASL Trails senior housing project.

According to a report from FoxNews.com, 10/21/13, "Feds try to eliminate housing for the deaf -- at complex built for hearing-impaired", the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is telling Apache ASL Trails in Arizona, a housing project for deaf seniors, that they are discriminating against the non-deaf.

A memo from HUD on the housing project says, "A preference or priority based on a particular diagnosis or disability and excluding others with different disabilities is explicitly prohibited by HUD's Section 504 regulations…There is no legal authority contained in any of Apache Trails funding to permit such a priority or preference." 

Even though HUD approved the apartment building project in 2008 and helped fund it,  HUD is now "…threatening to pull all federal housing aid to Arizona unless it limits the number of hearing-impaired residents to 18 people." 

According to the report, "All 74 units at Apache ASL Trails accommodate wheelchairs. Blinking lights signal when the doorbell rings and when utilities like the garbage disposal and air conditioning are running. A video phone lets residents 'talk' with friends." Ninety-percent of the units are currently occupied by deaf and deaf-blind seniors, but HUD wants to impose a quota of only 25% hearing-impaired residents.

The dispute over the Apache senior housing project is a continuation of HUD complaints covered in an article on April 28, 2013 in the New York Times:  "A Haven for the Deaf Draws Federal Scrutiny Over Potential Discrimination". 

One rationale used by HUD in claiming discrimination by the Arizona housing project is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act .

According to the HUD website on people with disabilities:

"Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states: No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States. . .shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program, service or activity receiving federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service. (29 U.S.C. 794). This means that Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity that receives financial assistance from any federal agency, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as well as in programs conducted by federal agencies including HUD."

On the website explaining the jurisdiction of HUD in answering complaints of housing discrimination there is an example of when a specific disability may be an eligibility requirement of participation in a program:

"HUD considers several factors in determining if it has jurisdiction to investigate the complaint. … the Department must determine whether the individual, or the person the individual represents, is a person with a disability as defined by Section 504. The Department also must determine if the individual is "otherwise qualified" for the program or activity alleged to have discriminated. …In some cases, disability may also be an eligibility factor. For example, if a housing program is set up under the Department's Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program, and the complainant's only disability is a visual impairment, the person would not be qualified for the HOPWA project because that project is designed to meet the needs of persons with AIDS. [emphasis added] Therefore, HUD would lack jurisdiction to process this complaint under Section 504."

Under some circumstances, a specific disability is a criteria for eligibility for a federally funded program and people with other disabilities may be excluded. 

Other ironies abound: This is a senior housing project, but apparently there is no charge that younger people are being discriminated against. Although 90% of the residents at Apache are hearing-impaired, 10% are not, . How can the claim be made that non-deaf people are excluded? No actual person has claimed that they have been discriminated against by the project. It appears that only HUD has gone through the mental contortions necessary to justify a charge that actual discrimination is occurring at Apache ASL Trails housing project.

What's next? Hospitals discriminate against the non-sick? Jails discriminate against non-criminals? High Schools discriminate against 5-year-olds? Soccer leagues discriminate against the soccer-impaired?

No comments: