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HABC gets extension on decade-old decree for accessible housing

Work remains unfinished under decade-old settlement

Ten years after settling a lawsuit over alleged discrimination against low-income people with disabilities, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City still has not fulfilled the requirements of the consent decree, according to court filings.

While a lawyer for the plaintiffs said HABC has taken the consent decree “seriously” and has made progress, the agreement will remain in effect because HABC “has not completed all its obligations” and “not all terms of the consent decree have been implemented,” according to a joint status report filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Certain provisions of the consent decree were to expire Saturday, 10 years after it was approved, or until “the provisions have been implemented, whichever is later,” according to the status report.

“The parties are negotiating in good faith on a plan to ensure that HABC completes all the terms in the consent decree,” according to the status report.

The parties will update the court on the plan’s status by Jan. 30, according to the status report.

Lauren Young, director of litigation for the Maryland Disability Law Center, said HABC still needs to provide some of the 830 federally compliant, accessible public housing units as well as some of the 1,850 new, affordable housing opportunities for disabled people through public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

Young said the projects are moving along, but some are still under construction while plans for others are still in the pipeline.

“We are looking forward to having all of these opportunities up and available for people who have waited too long for these opportunities,” she said.

Amy Wilkinson, HABC’s associate executive director of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Enforcement, was out of the office Monday and unavailable for comment.

As part of the consent decree, HABC established a $1 million-fund to compensate individual victims of discrimination and to pay $39,000 to individual plaintiffs represented in lawsuits by MDLC.

The consent decree also required HABC to provide extra assistance to disabled people seeking to use Section 8 vouchers to rent privately-owned housing units. HABC also had to identify privately-owned housing units in Baltimore that were accessible and encourage landlords to rent to low-income people with disabilities.

The housing authority had to create an “effective system” for responding to tenants’ and applicants’ requests for reasonable housing and modifications to public housing units, according to a 2004 Justice Department press release announcing the consent decree.

The consent decree also required HABC to adopt and implement “effective nondiscrimination policies and procedures” and develop training programs for HABC employees to ensure compliance with the consent decree.

The Justice Department filed its lawsuit and the consent decree on the same day in September 2004 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Judge J. Frederick Motz approved the agreement three months later.

The lawsuit alleged less than 2 percent of HABC’s 13,000 public housing units were accessible to people with mobility impairments and less 1 than percent were accessible by people with vision or hearing impairments.

Among other examples, the lawsuit cited a wheelchair-bound, physically disabled woman who could not use the bathrooms in her three-story house because they were all located on an upper level. The woman had lived in the house for five years and had been moved there after living in another inaccessible unit for five years, “despite repeated requests that she be moved to an accessible unit,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit sought damages for violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

HABC serves more than 20,000 residents in more than 10,000 housing units across the city, according to the agency’s website. Its portfolio includes 28 family developments, 17 mixed population buildings, and two senior buildings.

The cases are United States of America v. Housing Authority of Baltimore City, JFM-04-CV-03107, and Rickey D. Bailey, et al., v. Housing Authority of Baltimore City, JFM-02-CV-225.