Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Old News is Good News for Disability Housing Choices

I missed this story in January, but it is an important one. 

Remember the foofaraw in April of 2013 when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) decided that a housing project for deaf seniors in Arizona was discriminating against the non-deaf by allowing too many deaf people to live there? It even made the New York Times in an article entitled "A Haven for the Deaf Draws Federal Scrutiny Over Potential Discrimination" by Fernanda Santos, 4/28/13. The project called  Apache ASL [American Sign Language] Trails is specifically designed to meet the needs of people who are deaf and use American Sign Language as their mode of communication.

These are excerpts from a press release from the Arizona Department of Housing dated 1/24/14: 


Tempe, Ariz. – Ending a two-year legal standoff over the award-winning Apache ASL Trails community, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) today announced that it has withdrawn its Letter of Findings and closed the investigation involving Apache ASL Trails. In a letter to Director Michael Trailor of the Arizona Department of Housing, HUD concluded that Section 504 does permit Apache ASL Trails to give priority in rental to those individuals who need the accessibility features of the units.

Today’s resolution comes with a promise from HUD that it will permit Apache ASL Trails to continue offering priority to applicants who need the unique accessibility features provided at the community.

Trailor, who has long championed the rights of deaf Arizonians to have full and equal opportunity to access the housing of their choice, applauded today’s resolution, saying, “All citizens have the right to be a vibrant part of their community, to choose where they want to live.”

After receiving approval from HUD in 2008 to build the low income apartment complex to provide accessible housing to individuals who were deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind, the 75 unit apartment complex in Tempe, Ariz., called “Apache ASL Trails” opened its doors and quickly became a thriving, barrier free, and vibrant community. In June of 2011, Apache ASL Trails won the prestigious Charles Edson Tax Credit Excellence Award for Accessible Design. Days later, HUD issued a Letter of Findings that placed a cloud over the successful community, saying that too many deaf people lived at Apache ASL Trails. The State of Arizona, in support of Apache ASL Trails challenged the Letter of Findings and the two-year standoff began. In February of 2013, HUD issued a letter directing the City of Tempe to terminate the Section 8 vouchers that had been promised.....

Perhaps more important than the physical features is the embracing of culture and language that allows residents to communicate in American Sign Language with the manager, their neighbors and with the hairdresser, doctor, and other service providers who have offices on the first floor. Hearing residents are provided interpreters so that they too can participate in the active social life at Apache ASL Trails. The motto of this wonderful and accessible housing is “Banish Extreme Loneliness.”.......

This resolution comes as a great relief to the residents, who have eloquently asserted their rights to be a part of their community and to have housing that is both safe and barrier free....

Excerpts from the letter to HUD from the National Association of the Deaf, 4/25/13 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
(29 U.S.C. § 701)

"No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States,... shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service. The head of each such agency shall promulgate such regulations as may be necessary to carry out the amendments to this section made by the Rehabilitation, Comprehensive Services, and Development Disabilities Act of 1978..."

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