Chicago Housing Authority will pay $325,000 in damages and retrofits to settle access complaints

Low-income disabled residents of Chicago will have expanded housing choice as a result of a settlement agreement between Access Living of Chicago and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) along with The Habitat Company. The $325,000 settlement, reached in February, resolves allegations that Phase I of a new public housing project in Chicago was designed and constructed without accessibility for persons with disabilities, in violation of the accessibility provisions of the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) of 1988 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The apartments are part of one of Chicago’s largest public housing complexes, Henry Horner Homes. The settlement agreement mandates up to $300,000 in retrofitting to remedy the inaccessible features of the property, including nine exterior retrofits and ten retrofits on the interior of the units. Attorney Jeff Taren of Kinoy, Taren and Geraghty and lawyers with Access Living’s Civil Rights Team negotiated the settlement, which also includes $25,000 in attorneys fees and damages.

According to Taren, no official complaint or lawsuit was filed. Access Living was able to negotiate the settlement prior to taking administrative action or filing a lawsuit. Access Living was also able to ensure that future public housing units meet visitability standards so that disabled visitors can get into the housing units of public housing residents.

Interior and exterior defects will be fixed

The required retrofits include improvements such as ramping the front and rear steps of the apartments; adding accessible parking spaces; installing grab bars in bathrooms; lowering thermostats, medicine cabinets and closet racks to accessible heights; and expanding the amount of clear space in kitchens to allow for wheelchair maneuverability. In addition to the retrofits, The Habitat Company is required to submit semiannual written reports on the status of the accessibility retrofits and the modifications to Access Living. Further, The Habitat Company is required to include language regarding their commitment to accessible design and construction in all future requests for funding for the development of public housing. The settlement agreement also includes extensive monitoring by Access Living of any future covered multifamily dwellings developed, built, or overseen by The Habitat Company.

The accessible design and construction requirements of the FHAA apply to all covered multifamily dwellings of four or more units (public or private) built for first occupancy on or after March 13, 1991. If the building has an elevator, the Act mandates that the common areas and every unit be usable by people with disabilities. If there is no elevator, the common areas and all first floor units must be usable. The Rehabilitation Act requires, with respect to new public housing, that common areas be accessible, five percent of the apartments be accessible to tenants with mobility disabilities and two percent be accessible to tenants with hearing or vision disabilities.

Accessible public housing units are critical to persons with disabilities

According to Karen Tamley, Access Living’s Director of Programs, “A large percentage of persons with disabilities are low-income and need accessible, affordable housing. Because such housing is virtually nonexistent in the private sector, low-income tenants with disabilities rely heavily on public housing. It is therefore critical that new public housing developments, like Henry Horner Homes, be built consistent with federal civil rights laws that ensure access.”

Staffed by a majority of people with disabilities, Access Living is Chicago’s Center for Independent Living. Access Living works toward the full equality, inclusion and empowerment of people with disabilities. For more information about this or other Access Living cases, contact Gary Arnold at (312) 253-7000.

According to an April 2003 report by the National Fair Housing Alliance, 27 percent of all housing complaints filed in 2002 were based on disability. HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity reported that it took more complaints based on disability than any other type.