Founded in 1980, Access Living is one of the nation's largest, most experienced and most prominent disability rights organizations that is governed and administered by people with disabilities. As a Center for Independent Living established under the federal Rehabilitation Act, Access Living's statutorily–mandated mission includes advocacy to ensure the independence, integration and full citizenship of people with disabilities. See 29 U.S.C. § 796f. Because the lack of housing is one of the key barriers to this mission, Access Living has historically worked to eradicate housing discrimination through its Fair Housing Enforcement Project. Challenging discriminatory treatment is important because discrimination, combined with the lack of affordable housing and the gloomy prospect of finding accessible housing, presents a potent barrier for persons with disabilities in need of housing. Because the housing market for people with disabilities is extraordinarily tight, there is no margin for prejudice. With so few options, discrimination against people with disabilities can and will lead to homelessness and/or institutionalization
The Project employs three interrelated components: investigation and enforcement; public policy partnerships and advocacy; and education and pro se assistance.
Investigation and Enforcement
The Project's investigation and enforcement component combats discrimination, expands fair housing opportunities and choice, improves rental housing, promotes accessible housing, and fosters compliance with fair housing law. Through litigation of HUD complaints and lawsuits, negotiation/mediation, and testing, we: a) make housing units available and/or accessible to the disabled by requiring reasonable accommodations, reasonable modifications, the rescission of a discriminatory rule or practice, and/or new construction retrofits; b) mandate fair housing training for housing providers, developers, and architects; and c) compel the payment of damages and attorneys' fees. This work enables persons with disabilities to secure and maintain integrated housing, thereby avoid homelessness and institutionalization.
Public Policy Partnerships and Advocacy
Access Living's Housing Policy Analyst will lead the Project's public policy work. Our Policy Analyst recommends policy changes to expand housing opportunities and advance fair housing protections for people with disabilities at the local, state, and national levels; ensures interagency coordination to further fair housing (e.g., when deinstitutionalizing residents of nursing homes and related facilities); and educates and work with public and private partners on developing affordable, accessible, and integrated housing.
Education and Pro Se Assistance
The Project's education and training component empowers consumers to solve fair housing disputes on their own, instructs housing providers on how to comply with fair housing laws, and teaches architects and developers about new construction requirements. The Project conducts trainings on fair housing law for housing providers, architects, developers, government officials, attorneys, and consumers.
We represented a tenant with a mobility disability, living in subsidized housing, who needed accessibility improvements to her unit and outdoor common areas. She had lived in her building for several years and, during this time, her mobility had diminished. In her apartment, she needed the bathroom and bedroom doors widened, the bathroom shower and sink made accessible, and a hallway closet retrofitted. Outside, she needed modifications to be able to access a garden area and pool. Negotiations resulted in management's agreement to make all necessary improvements. Those improvements have been completed.
Other Recent Successes
The Fair Housing Team settled another case in which a client with a mobility disability needed a handrail in order to climb the stairs to her second floor condo unit. The client requested and received permission to install a handrail. Her downstairs neighbor unilaterally removed the handrail, claiming that it encroached on her balcony. The condo board reinstalled the handrail. The neighbor then sued the condo board to have the handrail removed. With the help of Matt Jenkins of the law firm of Corboy & Demetrio, our Fair Housing Team successfully intervened in the case. After a mediation session with the judge, the case was settled and the handrail will remain in place.
The Fair Housing Team also assisted an senior couple with mobility disabilities in their request to have permission to install a washer and dryer in their condo unit. The rules of their condominium prohibited in–unit washers and dryers, but the laundry room was not accessible. After a year of advocating on their behalf, the condo board approved their request for this reasonable accommodation.
The Fair Housing Team assisted another client with a voucher in making a request for her son to be able to be approved as her live–in aid. The CHA granted her request for this reasonable accommodation and now Access Living is helping her to move into a more accessible unit.
Finally, the Fair Housing Team assisted a client with a voucher in obtaining approval from the CHA for rent in excess of the ordinary voucher amount –– an exception rent. The client required this exception in order to be able to afford an accessible unit. The CHA granted this request for a reasonable accommodation.