Housing authority settles disability claim for $760,000

(Bridgeport, CT, Dec. 06, 2007) In 2002, an administrative complaint was filed with the state commission when the Bridgeport Housing Authority incorrectly informed Thomas Matyasovszky that despite his disability status he was not eligible to live at Fireside Apartments because he was under 62 years of age. Under HUD guidelines, Fireside was funded for and intended to house both elderly and disabled tenants (which would include those under 62 as well).

Now five years later, the issue has finally been resolved and not just for Mr. Matyasovszky but also for the many other class members who had been wrongly denied housing as well. And the resolution has come at no small price to the local housing authority. in all, a total of $48,000 will be paid to six named complainants (including $9,000 to Matyasovszky) in addition to attorney fees totaling $325,000.

Another $387,000 is being set aside in a special fund to be paid out to any other class members who exhibit claims that they were likewise discriminated against based on their "disability status". Joe Wincze- President of the Fair Housing Association of Connecticut- assisted Matyasovszky with the initial filing of his complaint with the CT Commission On Human Rights & Opportunities and also referred him to legal counsel. In May of 2003, Attorney Alan Rosner of Bridgeport suspended proceedings before the CT Commission and filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Matyasovszky and others who alleged to be similarly harmed and unlawfully discriminated against by the BHA.

"The mistake the Authority made was plain and simple", Wincze stated. "They had illegally converted a 248-unit complex funded to house both the elderly and disabled and decided on their own WITHOUT RECEIVING THE NECESSARY PERMISSION to make it 'elderly-only' housing."

Under the federal regulations, such a conversion cannot be made without approval from HUD and not without making alternative housing resources available to tenants with disabilities who were being excluded. Wincze added, "After Mr. Matyasovszky contacted us, we discovered upon our investigation that BHA was indeed engaged in a wide-scale pattern and practice act of blatant housing discrimination."

Besides the monetary damages to be paid out, the Bridgeport Housing Authority has also agreed under the terms of the Consent Decree to implement a change in policy regarding their handling of applications from persons with disabilities. In addition to making Fireside Apartments available to both the "elderly" and "disabled", the BHA will offer units at Fireside in accordance with a schedule that gives preference to disabled persons under the age of 62 until the ratio of Disabled Families to Elderly Families occupying apartments at Fireside is 2 to 1. This 2 to 1 ratio reflects the ratio of Disabled Families to Elderly Families who applied for public housing based on the composition of the BHA waiting list in July, 2004.

Although the Consent Decree states that the Bridgeport Housing Authority does not admit liability for any of the actions, practices or admissions raised by the plaintiffs, it also calls for other changes in their policies and practices. Specifically, new forms have been created and new procedures are now in place regarding the way the Authority processes pre-applications, applications, and unit transfer requests of Disabled Families. It is also stipulated that mandatory fair housing training is required of all BHA Resident Selection Office Staff and a training manual will be provided detailing how these changes will be implemented.