New York, NY

Dogs and autism

November 14, 2008
A legal battle in New York City highlights the healing power of dogs for children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
     Manhattan federal prosecutors have accused the owners of an Upper East Side residence of discriminating against 11-year-old Aaron Schein by preventing him from having a dog, The New York Daily News reports. Aaron has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, often considered a high-functioning form of autism, and his doctors believe a service dog will relieve anxiety and help him cope with the disorder. People with Asperger’s usually have average or above-average intelligence, but they lack the intuitive ability to read social cues and find it difficult to make friends and form relationships.
     According to the newspaper, a lawsuit claims the building owners violated the Fair Housing Act by imposing unreasonable demands on Aaron’s parents before allowing a dog.

Some NYC landlords flout law on housing vouchers

September 20, 2008
Some New York City landlords are flouting a new law that was supposed to protect tenants with federal rent subsidies.
     The city passed a law in March banning building owners from discriminating against prospective renters enrolled in the national Section 8 program.
     But lawyers and housing advocates say many landlords are still refusing to lease apartments to people who use the vouchers.
     The group Fair Housing Justice Center says in a report released this month that it found more than 1,500 apartment listings on the Web in which the landlords specified that they wouldn't take Section 8 tenants.

Accessible homes? Not really, say disabled residents

August 24, 2008
Even a kitchen cabinet can be an insurmountable challenge, when it is too high to reach. Or a sink — or a toilet — that is too low. And, as Roberta Galler knows, there are closets that cannot be entered. “You might get your wheelchair in, but you’ll never get it out,” she said during a tour of her apartment on a recent afternoon.
     Ms. Galler lives not in a prewar apartment building or a decrepit walk-up, but in a 27-story building in Battery Park City that was built in 1999 under a city law intended to provide accessible housing to disabled tenants. Her status — and that of thousands of others — took the spotlight last week with the news that developers and landlords in New York City — potentially facing lawsuits from the federal government — may have to spend tens of millions of dollars to renovate more than 100,000 apartments built since 1991 to comply with federal housing laws barring discrimination against tenants who use wheelchairs.
     The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan has sent letters to some of the city’s most prominent landlords and architects, saying they risk prosecution under the Fair Housing Act because, the prosecutors said, their buildings are not accessible to people with disabilities.

Fair housing probe may push developers to Washington's way

August 20, 2008
The developers and owners of an estimated 100,000 city apartment units may set their sights on Washington to avoid paying tens of millions of dollars for violations of the federal Fair Housing Act.
     The New York Times reported yesterday that the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Michael Garcia, is opening an investigation into whether thousands of apartment units that satisfied city regulators failed to meet federal requirements for wheelchair accessibility.
     At issue are provisions of the Fair Housing Act that include seven features that must be found in most new apartment buildings. One feature is that light switches be placed below a certain height. Another is that bathroom walls be reinforced to allow for the installation of grab bars.

U.S. says many apartments violate accessibility law

August 18, 2008
Facing potential lawsuits by the federal government, developers and landlords in New York City may need to spend tens of millions of dollars to renovate more than 100,000 apartments built since 1991 to comply with federal housing laws barring discrimination against tenants who use wheelchairs, real estate industry officials say.
     For 20 years, residential developers have complied with a city law requiring them to ensure that all the apartments they build are accessible to disabled tenants. Considered path-breaking legislation when it was enacted in 1988, the city law essentially meets the federal requirements of the Fair Housing Act, developers and city officials say.
     But the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan has sent letters to about a dozen of the city’s most prominent landlords and their architects saying that some of their buildings were “not accessible to persons with disabilities,” which would constitute discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. The recipients included Related Companies, the Durst Organization, Rose Associates, Rockrose Development and Silverstein Properties.
     The letters said that doors were not wide enough, and that kitchens and bathrooms were not big enough to allow someone in a wheelchair to maneuver. Also, the letters said, tenants could not install “grab bars” to lift themselves in or out of a tub, because the walls had not been reinforced.

Apartment developer is sued over access for people with disabilities

August 13, 2008
The Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit in Manhattan on Wednesday against AvalonBay Communities, one of the largest apartment developers in the United States, accusing the company of illegally discriminating against disabled people by failing to provide them with sufficient access at a 361-unit rental building on the Lower East Side.
     In a statement, the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York said the case was “the government’s first lawsuit in Manhattan alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act in the design and construction of multifamily housing.”
     The lawsuit concerns Avalon Chrystie Place, at 229 Chrystie Street, between East Houston and Stanton Streets. Opened in 2005 at a cost of $149 million, it was constructed on a formerly desolate site in what was known as the Cooper Square Urban Renewal Area. A Whole Foods Market is on the ground level of the building, which includes a rooftop deck, a fitness center and a residents’ lounge with a pool table.

City Council proposal would combat residential segregation

March 04, 2008
Advocates of a recent proposal to the New York City Council, known as Intro 685 or the Local Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Law, hope to crack down on the increasingly controversial issue of racial segregation within city residences.
     The proposed legislation was delivered to the City Council on Jan. 30 by Council members Letitia James (Working Families-Brooklyn) and G. Oliver Koppell (D-Bronx), and aims to “counteract segregation in residential housing on the neighborhood, borough, city, and regional levels, including attempting to counteract the current impact of past instances of discrimination and segregation; and refrain from acting in any way that would perpetuate segregation in residential housing on the neighborhood, borough, City, or regional levels,” according to the text of the bill.
     James, the lead sponsor, has called on the Department of City Planning to analyze residential racial segregation at least 30 days prior to any public hearing about zoning changes, which she believes are currently designed in a discriminatory manner.
     James also wants the term “protected class” to be more all-encompassing, pertaining to “actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, gender, age, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation, or alienage or citizenship status,” thus hopefully preventing discrimination on all fronts, rather than just racial discrimination.

Redlining: Why so few Harlemites own property

February 24, 2008
Redlining is the unethical practice in which financial institutions, such as banks or mortgage lenders, refuse to lend money in neighborhoods populated by people of color. It is one of the main reasons so few Harlem residents own real estate in their community.
     Although informal housing discrimination and segregation has a long history in the United States, it formally began in 1935 when the Federal Home Loan Bank Board helped create “residential security maps” to indicate the level of risk for real estate investments in 239 cities. The maps defined most black neighborhoods as ineligible for loans, including Harlem.
     Private banks picked up on the practice and began literally drawing red lines on maps around neighborhoods where they would refuse to offer financial services.
     The Federal Community Reinvestment Act was passed in 1977 and was meant to outlaw this form of racial discrimination, but critics say redlining continues in more subtle ways. Financial lenders often fail to market their services in black neighborhoods. Studies show they also set minimum loan thresholds above the small home or real estate purchase loans often sought by low-income people of color, and require high down payments.

Bank of America to buy Countrywide Financial

January 11, 2008
Bank of America Corp. said Friday it's purchasing Countrywide Financial Corp. for $4 billion, effectively doubling down on a previous investment in the troubled firm and catapulting the buyer into the top spot among mortgage lenders and loan servicers in the U.S.
     The stock-swap deal will put an end to the independence of the troubled California lender headed by Angelo Mozilo, and represents an increase from the Charlotte, N.C., bank's August investment of about $2 billion.
     "We believe this is the right decision for our shareholders, customers and employees," said Mozilo, chairman and chief executive of Calabasas, Calif.-based Countrywide in a statement.

Foreclosure rescue: No help for you

December 03, 2007
Already behind on your mortgage payments? No help there.
     Able to make payments even after the rate on your adjustable mortgage moves higher? You can manage on your own.
     In a speech Monday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson began to address efforts to stave off a foreclosure epidemic by lenders, those who service loans, and investors who hold mortgage debt.
     Despite much speculation that Paulson is close to helping coordinate a rescue plan that would broadly freeze levels on adjustable mortgages before they reset to higher rates, Paulson gave few details on how such a plan would work.
     He did however say who the plan would help, and it would probably leave out a large number of homeowners stretched by their mortgage payments.

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