The former tenant’s name is redacted in documents outlining the agreement between her, DHA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The former tenant’s complaint alleged that she was living in a second-story public housing unit when she was injured in a car accident. Her injury prevented her from walking up the stairs to her home, so she asked DHA for a unit on the first floor. DHA declined, which HUD concluded was a violation of the tenant’s civil rights.
The Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act all prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of disability. Refusing a reasonable accommodation, such as by moving someone who can’t walk up stairs to the ground floor, is doing just that, according to HUD.
“Reasonable accommodations are essential to ensuring that individuals with disabilities have equal opportunity to enjoy and benefit from their housing,” Demetria L. McCain, HUD’s Principal Deputy Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a press release. “Public housing agencies are not exempt from fair housing laws. HUD is pleased the parties were able to resolve the matter and expects others with disabilities to be afforded reasonable accommodations as well.”
Because DHA wouldn’t give the tenant a ground-floor unit, she’d have to crawl up and down the stairs any time she wanted to get to or leave her home. The process would often cause her physical pain, as well as further injure and humiliate her.
“The protection of housing rights for all families is an important matter and DHA takes its responsibility seriously.” – Dallas Housing Authority
HUD found that DHA also retaliated against the tenant after she requested the first-floor apartment. That’s when DHA stopped accepting her rent payments, eventually evicting the tenant and leaving her homeless.
In the agreement, DHA denies any wrongdoing. The Dallas agency is putting the whole ordeal to rest by paying the tenant half a million dollars. It also has to pay a civil penalty of $10,528 to HUD, and agreed to overhaul some of its policies to be in compliance with civil rights laws.
Under the agreement, DHA has a few deadlines it will have to meet. In the next couple of months, DHA will have to make changes such as creating a spreadsheet to track reasonable accommodation requests and choosing a disability rights coordinator. These will then be reviewed by HUD, which will decide if any more changes are necessary.
“While we are disappointed in HUD’s determination during the administrative process of this isolated incident, we worked in good faith to come to an agreeable resolution to avoid expensive and time-consuming litigation in order to focus our limited resources on our mission to provide affordable housing solutions for the communities we serve across North Texas,” a DHA spokesperson told the Observer in an emailed statement.
The spokesperson added, “The protection of housing rights for all families is an important matter and DHA takes its responsibility seriously.”
The spokesperson said DHA provides affordable housing for more than 55,000 people every day “with great care and integrity,” and upwards of 45% of the homes the agency serves include people with disabilities.
The spokesperson said the agency trains its teams on regulatory requirements and always tries to make improvements, adding, “DHA maintains its commitment to serve consistent with our core values of accountability, learning, honesty, inclusion, motivation, relationships and respect.”
Sandy Rollins, executive director of Texas Tenants’ Union, told the Observer by phone Friday that it’s often difficult to see such a complaint through to the end.
“Having to be an advocate for yourself and work through the bureaucracy can be a challenge,” Rollins said. “People fall through the cracks, I think, routinely if you don’t have the capacity to take on the fight to really advocate for yourself and go through the process.”