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PAC Position Paper

The Pennsylvania Action Coalition on Disability Rights in Housing was created by Disabled In Action of PA, Inc. and funded by the Developmental Disabilities Council. Our Mission is to dispel myths that have prevented People with Disabilities from achieving full access to affordable, integrated, accessible, public housing. In this position, we have identified barriers and developed some simple solutions. In the two years of working with this project, we have been in partnership with Pennsylvania Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, the State Independent Living Council, Independent Living Centers, Pennsylvania Protection and Advocacy, Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs Today of Pennsylvania, housing advocates, and many other groups across Pennsylvania.

This project was born out of the national group Disability Rights Action Coalition on Housing which meets regularly with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo. The HUD’s, PAC, intention is to systematically change public housing so that there is equal access to low income housing opportunities for all people with disabilities.

Discrimination is still the number one reason people with disabilities have a difficult time locating housing. In 1973, the 504 law was enacted affecting federal housing programs. The regulations were not completed until 1988. These regulations added protection to the admission process in public housing, as well as stating that 5 percent of units developed must be wheelchair accessible and that 2 percent should be accessible to people with sensory disabilities.

In 1998, the most reported discrimination is that landlords tell people with disabilities that you are too disabled to live on your own. This statement is against the law. 504 prohibits inquiry to the nature and severity of your disability as a condition of occupancy. A person with a disability must be given the same opportunities in housing as everyone. If a person with a disability breaks their lease or violates tenant regulations, they can be evicted as would any other person.

504 also allows a person with disability to request individual accommodation that would make it easier for them to live independently, such as; a wider door, a live- in attendant, or a sound proof apartment. You can request anything that you need to make the unit accessible. However, if the landlord claims that it would be an undue hardship or change the nature of the program, then the accommodation can be denied.

Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, often times 504 regulations have not been enforced. People with disabilities need to file complaints with their local office of Housing and Urban Development in order to enforce these regulations. We need to stop being victims of discrimination and fight back. Only through filing complaints, our civil rights will be enforced. Housing advocates or peers must help support people filing complaints as many landlords will try to retaliate against the complainant. Housing and Urban Development, HUD, should regard the discrimination against us as serious as against any other group. Disabled people should be doing housing tests and working with groups to end all housing discrimination.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act clearly states that 5 percent of all new housing developed with public dollars must be accessible to people with physical disabilities and 2 percent accessible for people with sensory impairments. Even if these requirements were being enforced, they would still not meet the demand for accessible units by the disability community. Therefore, the Pennsylvania Action Coalition for Disability Rights in Housing recommends several strategies to deal with the lack of accessible housing and, in the process, build visitability into public housing on the national, state, and local levels. Visitability means that, at the bare minimum, all doorways must be at least 32 inches clear, including the bathroom door; there must be at least one no-step entrance, and one 32 inches clear path through the house.

The goal of all public housing built to be visitable can be encouraged on the national level by having HUD build in incentives by providing extra points in their Notification of Funding Availability, NOFA, for developers to use visitable standards in both their new construction and in renovations whenever possible. The goal of all public housing built to be visitable can be encouraged on the state level by passing legislation that requires any new construction using HUD monies such as Community Development Block Grant, CDBG, and HOMEs dollars to be visitable. The goal of all public housing built to be visitable can be encouraged on the local level by having localities pass an ordinance requiring visitability in new construction and renovation whenever possible, wherever public dollars are used.

In addition, public housing units often do not meet the space requirements needed by people with disabilities who live in them. Oftentimes, these units are too small, as especially people with mobility impairments often require adaptive equipment such as shower chairs, Hoyer lifts, motorized wheelchairs, hospital beds, and so on. This amount of equipment makes it very difficult to move around inside the standard subsidized accessible unit. At the three forums held, this issue arose time and time again. Therefore, we recommend larger, more livable accessible units be built in response to this public demand.

Often a person may acquire a disability and be unnecessarily placed in an institution due to a lack of simple access to their homes. While some areas of the state have home modification programs that could make a house or apartment accessible, other areas have none. Whether or not a person can stay at home with the assistance of a home modification depends on where in Pennsylvania that person lives. If the person lives in rural Pennsylvania, the chances are they will not receive the funds they need to make their home accessible. Yet, often home modification programs would work best in rural areas because the market value of homes in rural areas tends to be much more affordable than in urban areas. Modification programs may also enable many rural Pennsylvanians to become home owners, due to the greater affordability of mortgages. Home modification programs would also greatly benefit many Pennsylvanians living in urban areas, as home modification programs would lessen the dependence on public housing and allow greater integration into Pennsylvania’s communities.

Unfortunately, there is no uniform program in Pennsylvania to ensure that a person with a disability will get the home modification needed to remain at home. Pennsylvania needs a uniform statewide home modification fund to ensure that no one, regardless of where they live, will have to leave home because of inaccessibility.

We propose that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania develop a home modification pilot project that would target three rural areas and one urban area. The project would be designed with the intent of developing an exemplary model that would be reproduced across Pennsylvania. The Department of Community and Economic Development would be the best entity to develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) that would enable community-based non-profits that already serve persons with disabilities to compete to develop the most exemplary model worthy of funding. Non- profits that are consumer-controlled; that is, have 51 percent or more of its staff and Board consisting of people with disabilities should receive extra points on their proposal. We believe that this is the best way to achieve consumer satisfaction.

Ironically, HUD administrators and staff see themselves as civil rights workers who believe strongly in integrated housing for all. Yet people with disabilities are the one population of people that HUD has intentionally and historically segregated since the very beginning of public housing in this nation. They have done this by developing such programs as the 202, which used to be known as buildings for people with disabilities and senior citizens. Then, in 1992, to answer the reactionary lobby efforts of seniors to evict and bar people with disabilities from 202 high rises, President Bush signed a law which pleased the senior citizen lobby, yet displaced many people with disabilities. Under this new law, people with disabilities were no longer legally able to access the units in a 202. HUD “solved” this problem for the disability community by creating an even more segregated option than the 202; the 811, a building targeted specifically to people with disabilities, which, in addition, mandated service options that people with disabilities were forced to accept in order to comply with occupancy rules and regulations. Many people with disabilities have shared that when the landlord is also the service provider, the tenant becomes almost a piece of property to the landlord. Privacy becomes a thing of the past and integration becomes a fantasy.

Disability advocates have had some success in getting HUD to delink the mandatory service requirement from the 811 funding stream. Services can now only be added as an option that you can or cannot choose. Occupancy can no longer be denied to a person with a disability because that person does not want services. Unfortunately, there are still 811’s being built and operated under the old mandate. Beyond the issue of delinking services, however, this is still a segregated option. These buildings are often the only form of affordable, accessible housing in a community, and they perpetuate segregation, as only people with disabilities live there.

In answer to this institutionalized segregation, PAC believes that 811 funding should be converted to 100 percent vouchers attached to the individual with a disability. This would enable individuals to choose any setting available, including all integrated options. Housing and services must be delinked. If services are offered at all, they must be optional, and have nothing to do with occupancy requirements.

We realize that the biggest obstacle to people with disabilities becoming desegregated is the profit service providers and landlords gain by forcing people with disabilities to accept services they may not want or need. The service provider yoke must be broken off the necks of people with disabilities if integration for our community is ever to become a reality.

Nursing Homes
One of the roadblocks to total integration for people with disabilities is that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has counted nursing homes as housing. This would result in a less funding for building accessible housing units or result in lax enforcement of the 504 regulations regarding new construction in Pennsylvania, leading up to a statewide housing crisis.

In truth, nursing homes are our homeless shelters for people with disabilities. Even though community service dollars have been increased and there are more community service options available, many people with disabilities cannot access them because they do not have accessible or affordable housing to receive these services. Many people with disabilities in Pennsylvania have gone into nursing homes because they have been stuck in inaccessible housing. Disabled people have either been relegated to back rooms of family homes where they could not move out of or became disabled in their homes, thus not being able to fully access or afford their homes. Without housing choices, disabled people were forced into nursing homes.

This oversight has been rectified due to work by Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT) meeting with HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo over the issue. Secretary Cuomo issued a directive that nursing homes and nursing home beds cannot be counted as housing. Therefore, all people with disabilities living in nursing homes must be counted as homeless and given access to homeless programs and preferences for all local public housing.

Safe and Affordable
Another roadblock in the way of integrated, accessible, affordable, safe communities is the grim fact that now, when people who live in public housing projects are finally being given the opportunity to move out of the crime-infested, drug-ridden projects, these projects are being made accessible, and people with disabilities are expected to move into the same horrible situation that others have just recently escaped. HUD recognizes that low income people need to be in higher economic neighborhoods to even know what the American dream looks like, yet HUD continues to ghettoize people with disabilities.

HUD already knows that a highly segregated low income project does not work for families. Why, then, does HUD think it will work for us? Many people with disabilities who have accepted accessible units in Pennsylvania s projects are afraid for their very lives as they wheel down the sidewalks outside their building.

Because there is no rent ceiling in subsidized housing, when a person with a disability goes to work, they often find themselves paying an exorbitant amount of money for their unit. It is often cheaper to not work, and have a low rent, than it is to work and pay taxes. There should be incentives in public housing that encourage people to go back to work. One obvious incentive could be affordable rent ceilings; the unit should not cost more per month than comparable fair market units in the same community.

Although we do not want the public housing authorities to deny access to the projects for people with disabilities who choose to live there, the public housing authorities should exhaust every effort possible to give people with disabilities the opportunity to be integrated into affordable, accessible options outside the same bad choices that never worked for any other group, and cannot be expected to work for us. This could be done by offering Section 8 vouchers to people with disabilities, and by creating other funding subsidies, such as using CDBG funds and tax credits in combination to fill in the gap between SSI income and affordable housing. This gap is approximately $147 a month, and can be easily worked into a newly developed affordable housing project. Such a demonstration project is already happening in Philadelphia. Unless creative funding ideas like this continue, affordable, integrated housing projects cannot even be accessed by our community. Many of us working in housing have already found many of the Section 504 units in existing buildings being occupied by able-bodied people simply because these units are not affordable to people with disabilities.

This position paper has been prepared by Cassie James Holdsworth as Director of the Pennsylvania Action Coalition for Disability Rights in Housing. Ms. James is also the Director of National Advocacy and Policy for Liberty Resources, Inc.

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