Dear FHEO Family:
In continuing to share real world stories about how our efforts are making a difference in the lives of individuals and families who come to us for help, this installment of Profiles in Justice focuses on discrimination based on disability.
Persons with disabilities, whether they are seeking housing or already have a home, have a right to the reasonable accommodations they need to make their living environment more comfortable.
Yet, the number of complaints we receive each year alleging this type of discrimination demonstrates that this right continues to be denied. The case of MB is one such case.
Although we refer to her simply as MB to protect her identity, her case is a powerful reminder of the acute need to do all we can to ensure that housing providers comply with their obligations under the Fair Housing Act.
The Case of MB
For 26 years, MB called Charlame II, an apartment complex in Boston, Massachusetts, home. For most of those years Charlame II was everything she could hope for: near her job and shopping, and the rent was affordable.
In 2014, however, her world became significantly more challenging when her disabilities made it difficult for her to walk, climb stairs, and navigate within her unit.
Making matters worse was the fact that the owner and property managers of the complex refused to grant her the reasonable accommodations she needed to live comfortably in her home.
The results of the denial were unimaginable.
Unable to come and go as she wished because of her disabilities, MB was essentially trapped in her home for over two years. When her friends would visit, she couldn’t leave her apartment to accompany them. Simple trips like going to the local grocery store or shopping centers were physically impossible for MB.
MB’s first accommodation request was for an accessible shower with grab bars. But, she was told “no” by management. With her request being turned down, she purchased and had the grab bars installed herself.
Next MB requested an entrance ramp that would enable her to enter and exit the building, but that request was also denied.
MB’s requests were being denied despite her having provided medical documentation attesting to her need for the accommodations.
The disappointment of not being granted the accommodations she needed became surreal. In describing how it made her feel, MB remembered feeling “very low”. It reminded her of “unpleasant childhood times,” which affected her self-esteem.
She recalled television shows such as Judge Judy, where victims were afforded their rights. She felt that she also had rights, but just didn’t know where to turn for help.
Then, in August 2015, she contacted the Boston Fair Housing Commission, which informed her about her housing rights. Because her complex is HUD-funded, FHEO’s Boston Office investigated the complaint under Section 504.
From the beginning, MB said that the Boston office staff was “very caring”.
“Even when there was a staff change working on the case, that person was supportive and caring, did their research, and kept in contact with me.” After some time, MB received a response from Noah Schoenholtz, the investigator assigned to her case, informing her that HUD was moving forward with her complaint.
The hard work and perseverance paid off. Three months ago FHEO’s Boston office obtained a Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA) with the owners and the Quincy-based managers of the complex that compensated MB $12,614 for the suffering she endured.
The VCA further requires the owners to create a reasonable accommodation policy, which must be approved by HUD; train staff about the Fair Housing Act and housing provider responsibilities; and hire a contractor to assess and improve unit accessibility.
MB no longer lives at Charlame II. She moved to a development that is fully accessible. She is much happier now that she can get in and out of her unit with ease.
When asked what she planned to do with the money, MB said she plans to use it to help others.
“Being in a wheelchair is hard enough, but to be housebound for so long was especially challenging. So I hope that by coming forward I will motivate other disabled residents to speak up as I did to protect their rights.”
MB’s last statement says it all. We know that allegations of disability discrimination account for more than half of the complaints we receive each year. And as the nation’s population ages we expect the trend to continue. But success stories like this remind us of what can be accomplished when we remain vigilant in our enforcement efforts.
I especially commend the Region I staff who helped MB to obtain the justice she deserved, including Daniel Weaver and Noah Schoenholtz. Congratulations on a job well done!
As we begin this new year, let us recommit ourselves to working even harder to protect the housing rights of every person who calls America home.
Thanks again for all that you do and stay tuned for another real-world success story next month!