Monday, September 29, 2014

Minnesota: Moving disabled out of congregate settings leads to clashes with elderly

Heights Manor in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, provides subsidized housing to low-income seniors. According to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, more and more people with disabilities are being moved out of congregate residences (group homes and institutions) and into public housing projects, leading to clashes with elderly residents.   The article , "Influx of disabled residents leads to clashes in senior housing" by Chris Serres, 9/8/14, says that "Heights Manor, much like subsidized senior housing across Minnesota, is being pulled apart by a recent influx of younger people with disabilities, who are being forced by a tight rental market and a shortage of affordable apartments to live with the elderly. Statewide, the percentage of people with disabilities in public housing increased 24 percent between 2009 and 2012, the last year for which data are available, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development."

Furthermore, "Disability advocates say such tensions are likely to intensify as the state moves forward with ambitious plans to further desegregate housing for people with disabilities. Under pressure from the federal courts, which recently admonished Minnesota for not moving quickly enough to integrate people into the community, state and local authorities are preparing to move thousands of people with mental and physical disabilities from group homes and other institutional settings to individual apartments."

Some of the incidents that have occurred at Heights Manor suggest that some of the new residents may have untreated mental illness or other mental disabilities: "One of the new residents would walk around the building while jabbing at the air with her hands, saying she was 'chasing away the devil,' residents said. Another new resident, a young man, was seen smoking marijuana on the third-floor balcony and playing rap music late at night. When elderly residents urged him to turn down the music, he screamed at them to leave him alone, Hall said."…"On July 4th, a half-dozen local police officers descended on Heights Manor after a resident in a wheelchair pointed a BB gun at a resident and then locked himself in his second-floor room. After kicking in the man’s door, police discovered a semi-automatic pistol as well as a rack with knives and a revolver mounted on a display in his bedroom, according to a police report."

Many of the senior residents are frightened and avoid places they used to congregate to play cards and socialize.

I can empathize with both groups in the housing projects. It is troubling that the anonymous state and local officials who came up with this idea did not foresee the problems in advance or did not care. The senior residents complain about disorderly conduct, unsafe conditions, and noise and disabled residents complain about discrimination by the elderly. The motivation for moving disabled people out of congregate care is supposedly for them to be integrated into the greater community. Instead, they are herded into public housing projects with other low income people, apparently not to integrate with the community, but to lessen the costs to taxpayers and to relieve government of the responsibility to provide humane and appropriate treatment.

Is accommodation of seniors in congregate settings age discrimination in housing? Not according to the federal Fair Housing Act.

A Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website on the Senior Housing Exemption states the following:

"Although the FHAct was amended in 1988 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and familial status, Congress intended to preserve housing specifically designed to meet the needs of senior residents. Housing that meets the FHAct definition of housing for older persons is exempt from the law's familial status requirements, provided that:
  • HUD has determined that the dwelling is specifically designed for and occupied by elderly persons under a Federal, State or local government program or
  • It is occupied solely by persons who are 62 or older or
  • It houses at least one person who is 55 or older in at least 80 percent of the occupied units, and adheres to a policy that demonstrates intent to house persons who are 55 or older.
"Therefore, housing that satisfies the legal definition of senior housing or housing for older persons described above, can legally exclude families with children."

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