This week, The Arc and other national and local disability and civil rights advocacy groups—represented by the law firm WilmerHale—filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case Community for Permanent Supported Housing et al v. Housing Authority of the City of Dallas. The brief provides background on the affordable housing crisis facing people with disabilities and explains that the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) “integration mandate” cannot be fully realized without affordable, independent housing opportunities in the community. The brief was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, The Arc of Texas, Disability Rights Advocates, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and the National Disability Rights Network.
The case, filed in federal district court in the Northern District of Texas in 2018, challenges the Housing Authority of the City of Dallas’s (DHA) refusal to use the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Project-Based Voucher (PBV) rent subsidy program to provide otherwise scarce affordable, independent housing opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the community. DHA was poised to offer such PBVs—each of which would permit a single-family house to be rented at subsidized rates to several people with I/DD who can live independently with appropriate supports—but then canceled its offering and has refused to offer any substitute, without any good reason. The lawsuit alleges that DHA’s actions violate the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Act, and state law. The district court dismissed the case in April 2019 and Plaintiffs appealed to the Fifth Circuit. Plaintiffs are represented by Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, a Washington, D.C. based civil rights law firm, and Disability Rights Texas, a statewide protection and advocacy organization. The amicus brief supports Plaintiffs’ request to reverse the district court’s dismissal order and let the case move forward.
As the brief explains, in 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Olmstead v. L.C. that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” under the ADA and, as such, the ADA requires public entities to administer programs “in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities.” But this integration mandate cannot be fully realized without affordable housing opportunities in the community that enable people with I/DD to live outside their family homes. For many adults with I/DD currently living with family, opportunities that allow them to live in the community separate from their families are often preferable because these opportunities provide greater independence and autonomy. Additionally, living in the community separate from their families can be critical for adults with I/DD to avoid homelessness or institutionalization when a supporting family member inevitably ages and reaches a point where she or he can no longer provide shelter or support. Of the more than 100,000 people with I/DD living in North Texas, around 75% live with at least one family member into adulthood because of a shortage of affordable housing that would enable them to access community-based support services in homes apart from their families.
“Defendant DHA has publicly acknowledged that two-thirds of adults with I/DD in North Texas ‘may be at risk of institutionalization or homelessness’ due to a severe affordable housing crisis. These numbers are unacceptably high and represent a crisis that must be urgently addressed,” said Shira Wakschlag, Director of Legal Advocacy & Associate General Counsel for The Arc. “DHA’s actions violate numerous federal and state civil rights laws and harm Plaintiffs by unduly restricting opportunities for community-based housing that offer more independence and autonomy and puts individuals with I/DD in North Texas at risk of homelessness and institutionalization. Plaintiffs should have the opportunity to prove their allegations on an issue as critical as community-based, affordable housing opportunities for people with disabilities.”
“We are proud to represent a number of disability and civil rights advocacy organizations as amici on this important issue,” said Christa Laser, an attorney with the global law firm WilmerHale. “We hope that this amicus brief helps to advance the rights of people with disabilities by ensuring meaningful access to affordable housing opportunities in the community.”