There’s a man about the same age as me named Mike who everyone in our neighborhood calls “Mike on the bike” as, for many years, we constantly saw him riding his orange bike up and down the streets. We haven’t seen Mike as much in the past year. After decades on New Jersey’s waiting list, Mike was finally able to move out of his parents’ house up the street from us and into a group home for adults with developmental disabilities.
Currently, the waiting list for such housing in New Jersey has more than 8,000 names on it. Other families tell us that people only move up the list when “there’s an emergency,” when older parents suddenly become ill or die and adult children with disabilities have no place to go.
There’s not enough housing for individuals with disabilities, that goes without saying. So how can an apartment complex designed for individuals with disabilities be accused of reverse discrimination because it does not have enough residents without disabilities?
This is exactly what Apache ASL Trails is being accused of. The 75-unit housing complex in Tempe, Arizona was specifically built to accommodate individuals who are deaf or hearing-impaired. All the units are wheelchair accessible and have features such as videophones and blinking lights to let residents know that a doorbell is ringing or a garbage disposal is on.
The complex was built with the help of some $2.6 million in federal funding from the Housing and Urban Department. All units are currently filled and there’s a waiting list. 85 percent of the current residents have hearing disabilities and many have multiple disabilities.
But for the past two years, Apache ASL Trails and its hearing-impaired residents have been in the middle of a disagreement between state and federal officials over whether the complex violates anti-discrimination laws and regulations for federally funded housing programs.
After conducting a civil rights review on 2012, HUD alleges that Arizona “violated federal non-discrimination law by marketing to and giving preference to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and because only a small minority of tenants aren’t hearing-impaired.” While saying it has no plans of evicting any current residents, HUD officials say that 75 percent of Apache ASL Trails’ residents are to be seniors who are not deaf or hearing-impaired.
Who Should Live in Housing Built for Individuals with Disabilities?
Arizona housing officials and the complex’s directors deny the discrimination allegations and say that Apache ASL Trails is “as effective as” housing for people without disabilities.
“To basically say there are too many disabled people here is just nuts,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona said to television station KSAZ.
As New Jersey’s seemingly endless waiting list for housing for adults with disabilities more than suggests, residential options for people with disabilities are in short supply and especially housing that has been thoroughly designed with accommodations such as ramps and videophones. The federal government would seem to be in the wrong to say there are “too many” residents with disabilities in Apache Trails ASL.
But it is also possible that if there was no policy for having a percentage of residents without disabilities live with those who have disabilities, the latter could end up being segregated. As the Arizona Republic comments, HUD’s law about housing for individuals with disabilities is open for interpretation:
The same federal non-discrimination law prohibits segregated housing, but makes an exception for programs that provide people with disabilities a housing option that is “as effective as” housing for others without disabilities.
Arizona politicians contend that HUD officials knew that Apache Trails ASL was specifically designed for individuals with disabilities. People without disabilities could certainly live there too. The reason some people without disabilities should also live in housing like Apache Trails ASL is to ensure that the complex does not become de facto segregated housing.
Some communities have tried to keep individuals with disabilities out of their neighborhoods by passing zoning laws and implementing aggressive enforcement measures that restrict where group homes can operate. It’s necessary to provide housing specifically built for individuals with disabilities and to make sure that they — that we all — live in neighborhoods that are integrated, with people with and without disabilities living side by side.
School districts are required under federal law to have students educated in the “least restricted environment,” and to mainstream students in inclusive settings rather than in separate schools. Should not federally funded housing for individuals with disabilities follow similar principles and ensure that they live “mainstreamed” in the community, rather than shut away in segregated housing like the institutions and state hospitals that disabled people were routinely shuttled away to not too long ago?
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