Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Carolyn Peoples, on Wednesday announced the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) has agreed to a consent decree, committing to make an additional 1,850 new housing opportunities available for non-elderly people with disabilities.

Under the terms of the consent decree, the housing authority must also make 755 public housing units accessible to people with mobility impairments and 283 additional units accessible to people who are vision- or hearing-impaired.

The consent decree is the result of joint enforcement activities by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the United States Department of Justice. In October 2002, after HUD’s efforts to negotiate a voluntary compliance agreement with HABC were unsuccessful, HUD referred this matter to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) for litigation. Pursuant to HUD’s referral, DOJ worked with HABC and the Maryland Disability Law Center (MDLC) to reach the terms of this consent decree.

On Jan. 22, 2002, MDLC filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of several Baltimore residents that alleged that the HABC had engaged in discrimination against persons with disabilities in the administration of its housing programs. Specifically, the class-action complaint alleged that the housing authority violated the Fair Housing Act by failing to transfer persons with disabilities residing in public housing into accessible housing units, failing to modify housing to make it accessible for persons with disabilities and, refusing to permit persons with disabilities to apply for housing for which they were eligible.

“It is simply unacceptable that anybody should be denied housing that is suitable for their needs at our nation’s housing authorities,” Peoples said. “This consent decree should reinforce to others that HUD and DOJ will not allow people with disabilities to be excluded from communities due to lack of accessible housing.”

Under the terms of the Consent Decree, HABC must hire an architect to inspect common areas in HABC housing developments, such as management offices, laundry rooms, recreational facilities and public restrooms, to ensure they are accessible for persons with physical disabilities

HABC must also make any necessary modifications to ensure that all public housing developments that were constructed after 1991 are in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Federal Fair Housing Act.

The housing authority must also administer a fund of $500,000 (with monies to be provided by the City of Baltimore) to provide financial assistance to persons with physical disabilities who must make physical modifications to privately owned apartments rented with Section 8 money.

HUD is a federal agency that implements housing policy.

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