SUMMARY OF THE HOUSING AUTHORITY OF BALTIMORE CITY
The Consent Decree requires the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) to make substantial modifications to its public housing developments and administrative offices to make them more accessible for persons with physical disabilities. In addition, the Decree mandates that HABC create 1850 new housing opportunities for non-elderly persons with disabilities, make various changes to its policies and practices to eliminate barriers for persons with disabilities, and conduct fair housing training for its employees. The Consent Decree enjoins (prohibits) HABC from violating Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Fair Housing Act in the future, and requires the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) to create a $1 million victim fund for potential claimants and pay $39,000 in monetary damages to the named plaintiffs.
The Consent Decree, once approved by the Court, will resolve two different lawsuits-one filed against HABC by the United States, and one filed by a group of individuals with disabilities who are represented by the Maryland Disability Law Center. Agreement on the terms of the consent decree was reached through mediation conducted by U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Gauvey.
1. Improved Physical Accessibility of HABC's Public Housing and its Administrative Offices
- Public Housing Units
- Common Areas of Housing Developments
- HABC's Administrative Offices
- Properties Constructed After 1991
Over the next six (6) years, HABC must make available 755 public housing units that are fully accessible for persons who use wheelchairs or have other mobility impairments. These units must comply with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). At least thirty (30) of these units must be "scattered site" units, located in different neighborhoods around Baltimore (apart from other public housing), and sixty (60) or more must be created in newly constructed housing. Two hundred twenty (220) of these public housing units must be available for occupancy within one (1) year of the date the Court approved the settlement. HABC is also required to improve the accessibility of an additional 75 units for use by persons who have physical disabilities but who do not use wheelchairs.
The needs of current public housing residents who require accessible units due to a disability but are living in units that are not fully accessible will be addressed under a new "Immediate Needs Plan" agreed upon by the parties to the lawsuit. When a resident indicates he or she has an "immediate need" for accessible features in his or her housing unit, HABC must send a team to meet with the resident within ten (10) days. The team must devise and implement an interim solution to meet the resident's needs until a fully accessible housing unit is available.
The Consent Decree also requires HABC to make the common areas in its housing developments more accessible for persons with physical disabilities. HABC must hire an architect to inspect common areas such as management offices, laundry rooms, recreational facilities and public restrooms to ensure they are sufficiently accessible. Any necessary modifications must be made within eighteen (18) months of approval of the Decree.
HABC must also reduce barriers for persons with physical disabilities at it administrative offices and must make a number of modifications to its offices at 417 East Fayette Street and 312 North Martin Luther King Boulevard to make them physically accessible. Such modifications include, among others, reducing the slope of walkways, altering elevator controls, modifying restrooms, and improving signage to allow use by persons with vision impairments. Most of the modifications must be made by Fall, 2004, and others by January 2005. HABC plans to move its operations currently handled at 300 Cathedral Street to another location and must do so within nine (9) months. HABC must make temporary modifications to make the Cathedral Street building more usable by persons with disabilities until HABC moves its operations to the new location.
The Consent Decree also requires HABC to make any necessary modifications to bring all of its public housing developments that were constructed after 1991 into compliance with Section 504 and the federal Fair Housing Act. Within one hundred twenty (120) days of approval of the Decree, HABC must survey the properties and identify all existing violations.
2. Creation of New Housing Opportunities for Non-Elderly Persons with Disabilities
As a remedy for its alleged past unlawful exclusion of non-elderly persons with disabilities from certain HABC public housing developments, HABC must create 1850 new housing opportunities for non-elderly persons with disabilities in Baltimore. It will create these opportunities by making available 1350 Section 8 rental subsidy vouchers (850 tenant-based rental subsidy vouchers and 500 project-based subsidies) and an additional 500 opportunities will be made available in public housing by designating units in the family developments specifically for non-elderly persons with disabilities. HABC must also establish an "Enhanced Leasing Assistance Program," through which it will provide specialized assistance to recipients of the designated rental subsidy vouchers. HABC will provide recipients with assistance in completing the application process to obtain a rental subsidy from HABC, and in identifying and leasing a private apartment using the subsidy. HABC will also administer a fund of $500,000 (with monies to be provided by the City of Baltimore) to provide financial assistance to persons who make physical modifications to privately-owned apartments that are necessary because of a physical disability. HABC must also provide funds for application fees, security deposits, and utility hook-up fees for participants in the Enhanced Leasing Assistance Program.
In addition, through a separate settlement agreement with the private plaintiffs, the City of Baltimore has agreed to take various steps to encourage the creation of privately owned housing units in Baltimore that are designated for non-elderly persons with disabilities.
HABC must also take various steps to publicize the fact that non-elderly persons with disabilities, in addition to seniors, are eligible for admission to certain public housing developments.
3. Implementation of Improved Procedures for Responding to Requests for "Reasonable Accommodations"
With respect to HABC's "Reasonable Accommodations" procedures, which are the procedures for responding to requests from individuals with disabilities for changes in HABC rules, policies, practices, or requests for structural modifications to public housing units, that such persons need as a result of a disability, HABC must take steps to continue to publicize its Reasonable Accommodations policy; continue to implement procedures to keep information about participants' and applicants' disabilities confidential; train its staff on the policy and procedures to responding to requests; and maintain better records of requests received and HABC's responses to them.
4. Implementation of Improved Procedures in Section 8 Rental Subsidy Program
Within six (6) months of the approval of the Decree, HABC must hold a mandatory meeting with owners or managers of properties that have received Low Income Housing Tax Credits or certain types of federal funds to inform them of their obligations with respect to HABC's Section 8 rental assistance program, including their obligation to accept tenants who have received Section 8 rental subsidy vouchers. HABC must also survey landlords who participate in the Section 8 Program to identify apartments that have accessible features suitable for persons with physical disabilities. In addition, the Consent Decree requires HABC to continue to provide recipients of Section 8 rental subsidy vouchers with property listings that list privately-owned apartments in the Baltimore area that are available for rent by Section 8 voucher holders. For participants with disabilities, HABC must provide assistance with making appointments and access to free phones and local newspapers. HABC must also continue to provide Section 8 program participants with disabilities with extensions of the deadline by which they must use their subsidy vouchers to rent privately-owned housing, and, in some cases, provide a higher level of rental subsidy to enable persons with physical disabilities to rent suitable housing.
5. Fair Housing Training
HABC is required to provide training for its managers, Board members, and most of its employees about federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on disability and about the requirements of the Consent Decree. HABC must hire an outside organization to conduct training sessions, and the majority of its employees must be trained within the next six (6) months. Within the next year HABC must also provide more specialized training for designated employees, based on their job responsibilities.
6. General Non-Discrimination Provisions and Effective Communications
The Consent Decree generally prohibits HABC from (1) discriminating on the basis of disability; (2) denying housing, making housing unavailable, or discriminating in the terms or conditions of housing based on disability; (3) failing to provide adequate access for persons with disabilities to HABC programs; (4) failing to consider and respond appropriately to requests for reasonable accommodations made by applicants or participants with disabilities in its housing programs; (5) violating federal statutes that prohibit restricting housing choices in a way that perpetuates segregation of housing for persons with disabilities, (6) limiting eligibility for any newly constructed public housing unit to elderly persons only, and (7) interfering with any person in the exercise of his or her fair housing rights.
In addition, HABC is required to implement procedures to ensure that persons with disabilities, including hearing and vision impairments, can effectively communicate with representatives of the Housing Authority.
7. Monetary Damages
Within twenty (20) days of the date on which the Consent Decree is approved by the Court, HABC must create a $1,000,000 settlement fund to compensate individuals who establish that they were victims of past discriminatory practices by HABC. HABC will hire a Claims Administration firm to gather and assess claims from persons who believe they are victims of HABC's discrimination and wish to receive money damages. HABC must publicize the existence of the claim fund and opportunity to seek money damages. Interested persons will have six (6) months to submit their claims.
HABC must also pay a total of $39,000 in money damages to three (3) individuals with disabilities who were part of the private lawsuit filed against HABC. Two of these individuals will also receive Section 8 rental subsidy vouchers that they can use to rent private apartments in Baltimore.
In addition, HABC must pay $300,000 in attorneys' fees to the Maryland Disability Law Center.
8. Length of the Consent Decree
The majority of the provisions in the Consent Decree will last for six (6) years. Certain select provisions, in particular those that pertain to creation of physically accessible units or new housing opportunities in housing that is not yet constructed, will last for ten (10) years.
In order to monitor HABC's compliance with the Consent Decree, the United States and private plaintiffs will receive reports every three (3) months for the first two (2) years of the Decree and every six (6) months during subsequent years. The reports will outline all steps that HABC has taken during that time period to comply with the Decree and will provide factual and statistical information on a number of issues. In addition, as required under the Decree, HABC has appointed an internal compliance coordinator who is responsible for ensuring that the Authority complies with its obligations.
The parties in the case will also meet on a quarterly basis for the first two (2) years of the Decree and a semi-annual basis for the following three (3) years to discuss HABC's progress in complying with the Decree.
Furthermore, the United States and private plaintiffs will have the right to review relevant HABC records during the term of the Decree.
If HABC fails to comply with the terms of the Decree, the United States and Private Plaintiffs have the right to ask a judge in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland to force the Housing Authority to comply.