L.A. to Spend $200M on Housing for Disabled

September 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council agreed Tuesday to spend at least $200 million over the next 10 years to rehabilitate or build affordable housing units that are accessible to the disabled as part of the settlement deal of a 2012 lawsuit.

The settlement resolves the city’s role in a suit filed by three disability and fair housing advocacy groups that alleged the city and its now-defunct redevelopment agency failed to ensure that affordable apartment projects that received federal funds were accessible to the disabled.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Independent Living Center of Southern California, the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley and Communities Actively Living Independent and Free.

The lawsuit came a month after the U.S. Attorney’s Office informed city officials it was investigating whether projects that received federal funding through the redevelopment agency followed laws protecting people who are disabled. The city stood to lose out on grants or would face fines if violations were discovered.

Under the settlement, which was approved Tuesday on a 12-0 vote, the city will be required to spend an average of $20 million annually during a 10-year period, and add 4,000 new or retrofitted accessible, affordable units.

The city has also agreed to pay at most $20 million in attorneys’ fees, with the exact amount still to be determined. The agreement also requires that the city pay $4.5 million in damages to plaintiffs and up to $1 million for miscellaneous court costs.

Other terms include creating a monitoring and inspections process that adheres to disability accessibility regulations; making a list of accessible apartment units in the city available online; and training property owners on their responsibilities to make their units accessible.

“We think this is an extremely significant settlement,” said Autumn Elliott, a Disability Rights California attorney who represents the three advocacy groups.

“It’s the only one of its kind that I know of, and it’s going to result in accessible housing for on the order of 10,000 people over the life of these units.”

Elliott said the lawsuit came about after advocacy groups received complaints from people with disabilities who said they were “having difficulty finding accessible affordable housing units in the city of L.A.”

Elliott said experts were hired to investigate the issue, and after making random visits to apartment buildings and reviewing a sampling of buildings plans, they found no housing developments “that were fully accessible to people with disabilities.”

“Our experts found across-the-board non-compliance with accessibility standards, and they weren’t small issues,” Elliott said. “They were issues that were big enough to affect the usability of the units by somebody with disabilities.”

Elliott said the affordable and market-rate units they checked had doorways and kitchens that could not accommodate wheelchairs. The units also lacked grab bars in the bathrooms and there were no countertops set to an appropriate height, she said.

The federal funds are primarily provided to housing projects as a way to encourage more affordable housing, Elliott said, and she believes city and redevelopment agency officials might not have realized “how crucial they (the affordable units) are for people with disabilities,” particularly low-income people with disabilities. Or else, they may have felt “somebody else was taking care of it,” she said.

Michael Allen, another attorney who represents the advocacy groups, said the settlement covers about 47,000 total units spread out over 700 housing developments, which includes some that were built as far back as 1988.

Allen said the 4,000 units figure reached under the settlement represents at least the full percentage of units the city was required to make accessible to people with disabilities on the existing apartment complexes.

These units included not only those that were originally the responsibility of the redevelopment agency — which were the subject of the lawsuit — but a significant number of additional units that were directly overseen by the city, Allen said.

“To its credit, when the city realized the issue of accessibility may be a concern in the entire portfolio, not just in the community redevelopment agency part, the city voluntarily chose to resolve the case on all of its affordable housing portfolio,” Allen said.

Housing developments that receive federal money are required to make 5 percent of their units accessible to people with mobility disabilities, and another 2 percent accessible to people who are blind or deaf, he said.

Allen said the settlement will set a good example to other cities.

“This is the largest accessibility settlement ever reached involving affordable housing, and it will send a strong, positive message to cities all over the country that their housing programs must be accessible,” Allen said.

Attorneys for the groups said the litigation against the redevelopment agency itself will continue. Allen said they hope to ensure that accessibility issues in at least 22 additional housing developments that is still under the agency’s control are addressed.

The settlement approved by the council becomes effective once city officials have signed it, after which the city will need to work out a process for how many units will be retrofitted and newly built.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that the settlement “allows us to resolve a long-standing legal issue with a predictable level of investment.”

“Los Angeles is a city that stands for inclusiveness and access for all,” he said. “If we have fallen short of that commitment, we need to fix it as quickly as possible.”

Cielo Castro, a spokeswoman for City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, said the “upfront costs” of the settlement will be covered by funding from the city’s reserves, which the city sets aside for emergencies.

“The $200 million settlement will be budgeted on an ongoing basis through the regular budget process,” Castro said.


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