Partial deal made on housing suit against city

U.S. funds to be used for aiding disabled poor

July 01, 2004|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

In a partial resolution of a 2 1/2 -year-old lawsuit filed on behalf of low-income disabled Baltimore residents, the city has agreed to allocate several hundred thousand dollars annually in federal funds it receives over the next decade to create new accessible and affordable housing.

Under the terms of the agreement, the city will set aside 11.5 percent of its annual federal HOME grant for the next 10 years to create new or renovated rental housing units for poor disabled residents under the age of 62. The grant, which is designed to increase the supply of housing to low-income tenants and which varies from year to year, is currently $7.8 million.

Also, the city will dedicate another $500,000 of HOME funds over the next five years to retrofit apartments leased by disabled tenants and will give preference in its selection of developers to those whose projects will make at least 10 percent of the units available to people with disabilities.

"We're really thrilled," said Lauren Young, legal director of the Maryland Disability Law Center, which filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the city and its public housing agency on behalf of poor disabled residents in January 2002. "The city is changing the way it does housing so that people with disabilities are a priority."

Amy Wilkinson, the city housing agency's deputy executive director for fair housing and equal opportunity, said the agreement would not require the expenditure of new funds and would not restrict those with disabilities to buildings designed only for the disabled.

The agreement was approved yesterday without discussion by the Board of Estimates and must be accepted by U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz .

It settles the claims filed against the city and its Department of Housing and Community Development, which has the responsibility to develop housing in the city. But it does not address allegations against the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, which operates public housing and a federally subsidized low-income voucher program in the city.

The allegations against HABC - which include charges that the agency improperly failed to modify housing for disabled residents and refused to allow disabled residents to apply for public housing units for which they were eligible - are the subject of a separate settlement agreement that is still under consideration.

"The main focus of the case is HABC because it was mostly their actions that we were complaining about," said Young.

Still, the settlement with the city is important because it will result in the creation of a minimum of hundreds of new housing units for the disabled, Young said. Young acknowledged that the new units will help only a small fraction of the estimated 20,000 people in Baltimore with physical, mental and development disabilities who need suitable housing. But, she added, "It's also a significant piece because it includes people who have been on the waiting list [for housing for the disabled] for a long time."

Young said there was an acute need for housing for those with "mobility impairments" but said there was a general shortage of affordable units for those with any form of disabilities. Noting that the federal Supplemental Security Income payment for a single disabled person was under $600, she said, "You can't find a one-bedroom apartment to rent on that income."

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