The Multi-Family Housing Access Forum is a nationwide program launched in the spring of 2005 by the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. Bringing together developers an building professionals, government officials, and advocates for individuals with disabilities, its purpose is to raise awareness about the federal Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements and to celebrate partnerships that have successfully produced accessible multi-family housing in which everyone profits – developers and consumers alike. Access Forum programs have been held in Memphis, Boston, Kansas City (MO), Philadelphia, Houston, Seattle, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas, and Washington, DC.
The Civil Rights Division enforces the Fair Housing Act. Since January 2001, those who designed an constructed multi-family housing that did not comply with the Act’s accessibility requirements have had to pay over $12 million to retrofit their properties and to compensate persons with disabilities who wer injured by the violations. Since October 2004, the Division has obtained settlements that, when fully implemented, will make well over 17,668 housing units in 26 states – as well as the accompanying public and common use areas – accessible to persons with disabilities. Although such lawsuits are a necessary part of the Division’s job, voluntary compliance at the planning stage is a much more cost-effective means of ensuring that the housing needs of persons with disabilities are met. A copy of HUD’s Fair Housing Act Design Manual can be found at http://www.huduser.org/portal/publications/destech/fairhousing.html
It also makes good business sense. More than 50 million Americans, or 18 percent of the American population, live with some type of disability, and together they control $175 billion in discretionary spending. As the population ages and as the "baby boomer" generation retires, the need for accessible housing will only grow. Accordingly, the goal of the Access Forum is to ensure the availability of accessible housing for persons with disabilities while introducing housing professionals to a market that is continually expanding to meet the needs of a large segment of the nation’s population.