Richmond, CA housing authority pays $54,500 for denying disabled woman access to public housing

United States District Judge Phyllis Hamilton approved the January 2003 settlement of a housing discrimination case brought by Frances Foster, a person with disabilities, who alleged that she was discriminated against by the City of Richmond Housing Authority. Foster will receive $54,500 in damages and attorneys’ fees.

Housing authority wouldn’t allow disabled persons to apply for public housing units

Foster filed her lawsuit, because she was not allowed to apply for a spot on the Richmond Housing Authority’s public housing waiting list. The Housing Authority had three propeties in Richmond which were designated for seniors and persons with disabilities. However, the Authority had a policy in place of refusing to allow persons with disabilities to apply for housing. Only seniors were placed on waiting lists, and Foster didn’t meet age requirements for senior housing. By rejecting persons with disabilities, the Foster and her attorneys asserted that the Housing Authority violated the Fair Housing Act.

Foster’s case was not the first fair housing case against the Richmond Housing Authority. In 1999, Housing Rights, Inc., a California fair housing agency, sent testers with disabilities to apply for public housing with the Richmond Housing Authority. All of the disabled testers were told that the waiting lists were closed to persons with disabilities. Housing Rights, Inc. then filed a class action lawsuit against the housing authority. In an August 2001 settlement agreement, the Richmond Housing Authority agreed to open the senior and disabled apartment complexes to persons with disabilities. However, since August 2001, the waiting list for the senior and disabled apartment complexes has been open for only one week. As a result of Foster’s lawsuit, the waiting list will be open for at least six weeks beginning on or before February 15, 2003.

The Richmond Housing Authority owns three senior and disabled apartment complexes containing approximately 350 units. In April of 2000, Ms. Foster informed the Richmond Housing Authority that she wanted to apply for housing at the senior and disabled apartment complexes, but was told that they were not accepting applications. At that time, the waiting list remained open to seniors.

According to Fred Nisen, one of Foster’s attorneys, persons with disabilities are eligible for public housing built for seniors and persons with disabilities, unless a housing authority has obtained approval from the United States Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) to designate senior and disabled apartment complexes as “seniors only.” To obtain approval to switch senior and disabled housing to “seniors only” status, housing authorities must submit a plan to HUD which details how they will obtain alternative housing for persons with disabilities.

In July 1999, the Richmond Housing Authority officially closed its waiting list to persons
with disabilities without obtaining the required approval from HUD. Because the housing
authority did not seek HUD approval and did not provide additional units for disabled persons, it discriminated against disabled persons like Foster.

In January 2002, Foster filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco seeking placement on the waiting list for the senior and disabled apartment complexes. The settlement, which was reached with the understanding that the Housing Authority has no plans to designate its apartment complexes as “seniors only,” requires Foster to be at the top of the waiting list.

As a result of this settlement, Foster can be placed in the first available unit, so she will not have to spend a large majority of her fixed income on rent. Foster’s only income comes from Social Security payments, and she has been paying 75 percent of her monthly income toward rent.

“Now, I can have a life,” said Foster. “This settlement will give Richmond residents with
disabilities an opportunity to apply for public housing for the first time since July 1999, with the exception of one week,” said Nisen. “This will allow them access to affordable public housing, allowing them to live productive lives.”

The housing authority claimed that Foster was kept out of public housing, because someone in her household had a criminal history but admitted that it had made mistakes, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Foster v. City of Richmond Housing Authority
Case No. 3:02-cv-00562 (Cal. N.D. San Francisco)
The Honorable Phyllis J. Hamilton, U.S. District Judge
Scott Chang & Fred Nisen, attorneys for plaintiff
Case filed: January 31, 2002
Consent Order and Settlement: December 20, 2002