PHA Pays $1.5M to Resolve Disability Discrimination Claims

The Justice Department and HUD recently announced that the Housing Authority of the City of Bridgeport, Conn. (HACB) has agreed to a $1.5 million settlement to resolve allegations that HACB discriminated against persons with disabilities by failing to provide accessible units and ignoring their requests for reasonable accommodations in violation of the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying or limiting housing because of a person's disability and from refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all programs, services, and activities of local governments.

HACB owns and manages more than 2,500 units of public housing and administers more than 2,800 vouchers under HUD’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. The lawsuit arose from a compliance review initiated by HUD, which allegedly revealed that HACB was in violation of federal disability laws. After issuing a determination of noncompliance and attempting resolution, HUD referred the case to the DOJ.

The complaint alleged that HACB failed to properly process, decide, and fulfill requests for reasonable accommodations for residents with disabilities. Federal law requires HACB to provide reasonable accommodations, such as physical modifications to public housing units, changes to program rules, or transfers to appropriate housing, when requested to meet the disability-related needs of applicants and residents. The complaint also alleged that HACB failed to provide a sufficient number of public housing units that are accessible to residents with mobility, vision, or hearing-related disabilities.

Under the settlement, HACB agreed to institute broad reforms to safeguard the rights of individuals with disabilities, including revising its policies and processes for handling reasonable accommodation requests and developing an inventory of accessible units for residents with mobility, vision, and hearing-related disabilities. The settlement also requires HACB to pay $1.5 million to those hurt by the alleged discriminatory practices and a $25,000 civil penalty to the United States.

“This settlement will ensure that tenants with disabilities have the same opportunity to use and enjoy their homes as everyone else,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “Individuals who seek reasonable accommodations from the Housing Authority of Bridgeport will now have access to a process that is easier to navigate, provides timely responses, and includes all of the protections afforded by federal civil rights laws. In addition, by bringing its housing inventory into compliance with accessibility requirements for tenants with mobility, vision, and hearing-related impairments, the Housing Authority will be better able to meet the needs of its residents and community.”

“As a former director of a public housing agency, I know how important it is that public housing agencies provide persons who have disabilities with the type of housing that meets their needs,” Anna María Farías, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a statement. “HUD applauds this important settlement and will continue working with the Justice Department to ensure that housing providers are aware of and meet their obligation to comply with the nation’s housing laws.”