April is Fair Housing Month.
Finding housing that’s decent and affordable is a challenge for almost everyone. Imagine how much more difficult that quest becomes when you have a disability and your options are further limited by architectural barriers and/or the discriminatory attitudes of landlords and housing providers.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibited racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. Twenty years later, Congress amended that law to ban housing discrimination against people with disabilities.
When I drive down a stretch of Roosevelt Road just a little southwest of downtown Chicago, I see the positive results of the law in action. I see a development of about twenty recently constructed condo buildings that all have no-step front entrances. This sort of accessible construction would not likely ever have happened without the Fair Housing Amendments Act.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act says that people with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to rent or buy housing cannot be denied the opportunity based on disability. The law also requires landlords to allow disabled people to make reasonable accessibility accommodations to housing, such as the installation of a ramp.
In addition, this law requires that all newly constructed, multidwelling housing structures of four or more units must have at least one wheelchair-accessible entrance and wheelchair-accessible common areas. In buildings with elevators, all units must also have certain key access features, such as doorways and halls that are wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through. In structures without an elevator, all ground floor units must have these features.
People with disabilities who feel they have been discriminated against can file complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Landlords and developers found to be in violation of the Fair Housing Amendments Act can be forced to comply and fined.
Thanks to the Fair Housing Amendments Act, people with disabilities encounter these obstacles less often than before. And when we do still encounter them, we have recourse.
Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Image credit: Phil Cardamone