Atlanta Housing Authority violated federal disability law, HUD reports

Atlanta Housing creating $2 million relief fund as part of settlement agreement

A federal investigation into Atlanta’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) found that 15 Atlanta Housing tenants experienced disability discrimination.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Atlanta Housing and its third-party property owners and management companies failed to monitor its reasonable accommodation requests — tenants seeking live-in aid, grab bars, assistance animals, or accessible parking space, among other ADA needs — between 2018 through Sept. 30, 2020.

HUD found numerous valid requests were denied, “unjustifiably or unreasonably delayed,” lost, ignored, or improperly documented. At one AH-owned property and 11 properties from third parties that receive AH funds, 15 requests were unfulfilled in violation of Section 504 and Title II of the ADA.

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In a statement, a spokesperson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Atlanta Housing takes the health and welfare of its residents seriously.

“We are fully committed to ensuring that those with disabilities have access to reasonable accommodations that support their needs,” the statement said. “Though we are disappointed in HUD’s findings, particularly as we were navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been working cooperatively with HUD and our partners to resolve any outstanding concerns. As we remain dedicated to our mission of providing quality living for those we serve, we will continue to put the needs of our residents first.”

On Nov. 22, HUD announced that Atlanta is creating a $2 million relief fund to pay eligible tenants with rejected accommodation requests. AH is developing a process for tenants to apply for reviews. The fund will be in effect until HUD thinks AH has fulfilled the requirements of the settlement agreement.

“Fifteen individuals shall be compensated for the unreasonable and undue delay or denial of certain reasonable accommodation requests,” according to the settlement agreement. “The individual amounts will be communicated to the Independent Administrator and Atlanta Housing and will total $210,000.”

Failure to fulfill the settlement agreement may result in HUD suspending or terminating the housing authority’s ability to receive federal funds, or referrals to the Attorney General for civil action in federal court, HUD said.

Credit: BECKY STEIN / Special

Credit: BECKY STEIN / Special

On Nov. 4, 2020, HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity reviewed 54% of Atlanta Housing’s portfolio — 60 properties where Atlanta’s low-income housing agency provides subsidy to the property or residents. HUD contacted more than 400 Atlanta Housing staff, property managers, and 14% of the identified Atlanta Housing tenants with disabilities.

HUD also obtained 26 out of 27 of its records requests from Atlanta-subsidized properties. From that, HUD found Atlanta violated federal recordkeeping requirements by failing to collect information on Section 504 compliance from its third-party owners. AH also failed to provide the disability status of tenants in its assisted properties.

HUD defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major activities such as caring for oneself, manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, or learning. Reasonable accommodations are changes, modification, exceptions, or adaptations in a policy, practice, program, service, activity, facility, or housing unit for disabled people seeking equal opportunities.

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According to the settlement, Atlanta Housing must also change its oversight of its housing partners through increased training, monthly audits of reasonable accommodation logs, and an updated website and grievance policies, among other provisions.

“Public housing providers who receive federal assistance have a responsibility to ensure equal opportunity in housing for all the residents they serve,” according to a statement from Demetria L. McCain, HUD’s principal deputy assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

“HUD is committed to using all of its tools, including compliance reviews, to tackle housing discrimination, including discrimination against individuals with disabilities. We are pleased AHA engaged with the conciliation process with an eye toward resolution of this matter.”

Jason Dozier, an Atlanta City Councilman and the Community Development/Human Services Chair, told the AJC he didn’t know HUD was investigating Atlanta Housing.

“My goal is to learn more about not only what happened, but also what Atlanta Housing has done to address the complaint from HUD to ensure that it never happens again,” Dozier said.

People who believe they experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 877-8339 (Relay). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to hud.gov/fairhousing.

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