In our penultimate FH5 post for 2015, the main focus for this week will be one of the most common types of housing discrimination we encounter: disability discrimination. Whether it’s new buildings that are constructed without appropriate accessibility or confusion about housing providers and tenants regarding emotional support animals, complaints of discrimination come in various forms. Perhaps that’s one explanation for why disability discrimination is so common: disability includes a huge swath of conditions (physical, medical, mental). Still, though, there’s plenty of resources available that housing providers can use to learn about and understand the difference in disabilities, and so ignorance is hardly a permissible excuse for discriminating against people with disabilities. And merely resting on the reality that we live in a society functionally designed to only accommodate able-bodied people – otherwise known as the old “that’s the way it’s always been, so that’s the way it will be” – amounts to lazy reasoning. Hopefully the coming year will see some increased achievements for addressing disability issues in housing.

We’ve got one more of these for 2015, and then it’s on and onward toward 2016. Thanks for reading!

  • When nearly 1 in 5 residents of the U.S. have some kind of disability, the need for accessible housing is dire. However, that need has largely gone unmet for many Americans with a disability. Only about 6% of buildings erected since 2003 have been designed to optimize accessibility for those with disabilities. Although it may be easier for an agency like LFHC to enforce accessibility compliance in those buildings, the task gets more difficult for buildings that were erected before 1991, which was when the American with Disabilities Act became law. In those latter cases, even when housing providers are willing to accept requests from tenants to make a reasonable modification, “the burden of making it accessible falls on disabled tenants and their families” since it’s the tenants that are required to foot the bill for making those changes. And although some cities do have agencies that are willing to assist these residents with the construction of ramps or other modifications, those programs are often already stretched to their limits and can sometimes have waiting lists as long as a year. Ultimately, the lack of resources leaves people with disabilities living in dwellings that are far from accessible. [The Atlantic]
  • Among the few exceptions allowed in the Fair Housing Act is what is commonly known as the Mrs. Murphy exemption, which basically maintains that a person who wishes to rent out part of the home they live in may discriminate against who they rent to so long as they do not rent to more than three other people or families. Illuminating some of the modern problems of this law, a recent study by Harvard researchers found that among users of Airbnb, a website where people can lease and/or rent privately owned residences for short terms, there was “widespread discrimination by hosts against people with black-sounding names seeking rentals.” Airbnb acknowledges that the Fair Housing Act does not apply to most of the site’s hosts, but the site states that it does “expect our hosts to conduct themselves in a respectful manner and work to bridge differences and make accommodations where possible.” Wishful thinking, sadly, never has done much to actually prevent discrimination. [NYT (2), Airbnb]
  • Homeless residents of New York City may have been victims of housing discrimination as it appears housing providers have been denying some of them housing due to source of income. According to NYC Human Rights Law, “any landlord with a building containing at least six units may not discriminate against a tenant or applicant because that individual intends to pay their rent with some lawful income other than a paycheck.” Yet, many homeless people in the city say they have been denied housing because the voucher they were issued is not a Section 8 voucher but a voucher issued by the Living in Communities Rental Assistance Program voucher, which is a program under the umbrella of the Department of Homeless Services. NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer has called upon the city’s human rights commission to investigate the claims of housing discrimination in hopes of holding any guilty housing providers accountable.
    [Fair Housing NYC, Amsterdam News]
  • The National Center for Transgender Equality has started a petition to ask the Department of Housing and Urban Development to prohibit shelters from discriminating against trans people. In a recent survey, one third of trans people seeking assistance from a shelter were denied access due to their gender. Of the trans people who were allowed to stay at shelters, more than 40% of them “were forced to stay in facilities designated for the wrong gender.” While HUD has previously stated that any discrimination against trans people is forbidden by the Fair Housing Act (on account of discrimination based on sex), this guidance mostly applies only to trans folks who are renters and home-buyers and doesn’t say too much about shelter access. [NCTE]
  • On that note, Pittsburgh’s NPR affiliate has a story about the discrimination threats that LGBT college students face and the incomplete patchwork of discrimination laws that vary from city to city. But while this local-first strategy may be slow and not comprehensive, Equality Pennsylvania Executive Director Tom Martin says that by using the local first approach, organizers hope to duplicate the success that activists for marriage equality were able to achieve, culminating with a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that made same-sex marriage the law of the land. [WESA]
  • (Photo by ferobanjo. Licensed under CC0 1.0 via Creative Commons.)