Sunday, August 10, 2014

Talking points for protecting DD individual housing choices

These talking points are found on the website of the Wisconsin Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. They are in defense of a senior housing project in Arizona called Apache ASL Trails, a project specially designed for seniors who are deaf and use American Sign Language to communicate. The housing project received a complaint from the U.S. Department of  Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that they were discriminating against people who were not deaf and therefore in violation of HUD anti-discrimination policies. HUD finally backed down and withdrew its complaint.

This case parallels in many ways the plight of people with disabilities who live in or wish to live in congregate housing and planned communities that are freely chosen by the individuals or their  legal guardians, and meet the unique needs of the people living in these settings.

Many federally-funded advocacy organizations and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have insisted that funding through Medicaid waivers and state plan services to people with developmental and other disabilities may be restricted if the settings in which people live are too "institutional" and not  "community" enough as defined by the CMS. [CMS is the federal agency that regulates Medicare and Medicaid.] Influential advocacy groups and the National Council on Disability have gone as far as defining as "institutional" any setting where more than 3 people with disabilities live or receive services together.

Final rules issued by the CMS on Home and Community Based services and settings in January 2014 were modified from earlier versions to answer criticisms from many groups [See the Community Choice Coalition] and individuals who believe that there are many ways of living in a community. Congregate settings are not inherently discriminatory and do not violate the often misinterpreted 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead decision .

Even facilities that are explicitly defined as institutions (Intermediate Care Facilities for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,  nursing homes, mental hospitals, and other hospital settings) were not considered inherently discriminatory by the Supreme Court in the Olmstead decision when they are  necessary for people who cannot successfully live in community settings. Individuals may not be removed from institutional care to community care if they do not agree to it. 

The legal underpinning for the talking points on Apache ASL Trails is section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: 

"No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his 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. . ."  29 U.S.C. 794 

HUD rules regarding housing discrimination do not justify disqualifying projects such as Apache ASL Trails:
  • 24 C.F.R. 8.4(b)(1)(iv) allows recipients of Federal funds to provide different or separate housing to individuals with handicaps, or to any class of individuals with handicaps, if such action is necessary to provide qualified individuals with handicaps with housing that is as effective as the housing that is provided to others. 
  • 24 C.F.R. 8.27 requires that accessible units be marketed to individuals who need the accessibility features of the units, and that the accessible units first be offered to individuals who need the accessibility features of the unit. 
  • 24 C.F.R. 8.22(c) allows HUD to approve a higher percentage of accessible units than the minimum percentages required by the regulations. This approval can be based on any available current data or evidence of a need for a higher percentage, and the regulations do not prohibit a property from making all of its units accessible to individuals with hearing or vision impairments.
According to the Talking Points:
  • HUD’s insistence upon an arbitrary 25% limit on the number of accessible units that can be rented to people with disabilities who need the accessible features has no basis in Section 504 or its implementing regulations and would in fact be a violation of 24 C.F.R. 8.27. 
  • Any quota, by definition, violates 24 C.F.R. 8.27 and discriminates against individuals with disabilities. The protections of federal disability rights laws are not first come, first served.
CMS and other federal agencies are also subject to Section 504 anti-discrimination rules, regardless of an agency's attempts to use anti-discrimination law to limit access to benefits and housing choices that the agencies and many advocacy groups would like to eliminate.

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