As the Holiday season is upon us, I’m reminded of the many joyful family gatherings of years past. For me, most of these celebrations have taken place either in my home or in the homes of my loved ones. But for some veterans out there, finding a suitable place to live is still problematic.
VetsFirst and its parent organization, United Spinal Association, enjoy a long history of accessible housing advocacy. My first job here back in 1972 involved helping disabled vets transition from physical rehabilitation at VA hospitals to community living. The main lesson that I learned from that experience was that disabled veterans need permanent accessible housing.
A few years later, in 1977, I was one of many disability advocates to work on a New York City local law that improved accessibility in new construction and substantial renovation, including multi-family housing. A few years later, I was a member of a similar group that developed better building and housing design standards for the state of New York.
Later on, in 1988, I was fortunate to be appointed to the New York State Building Code Council. During my 14 years there, I was one of many Council members who helped to bring New York’s building code into alignment with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act.
The FHAA, which became effective in 1989, amends the Civil Rights Act of 1968 to prohibit discrimination based on disability in housing sales, rentals or financing. This law was passed to increase housing opportunities for persons with disabilities.
It applies to all types of housing whether it is financed by private or public funds, and it prohibits such discriminatory actions as refusing to sell or rent based solely on an individual’s disability, or refusing to allow a tenant with a disability to make modifications at the tenant’s expense.
Moreover, the FHAA allows for two types of “reasonable accommodations:” structural modifications and policy changes. Structural modifications must be reasonable but paid for by the individual with a disability. A good example of a policy change would be reserving a parking space for a tenant with a mobility impairment which is nearby this tenant’s apartment, in a parking lot that is otherwise utilized on a first-come, first-served basis.
Also, since March of 1991, the FHAA requires that any newly constructed multi-family dwellings with four or more units must provide basic accessibility for persons with disabilities. Multi-story townhouses are exempt from these requirements. Examples of required accessibility elements are at least one accessible building on an accessible route, and accessible public and common use spaces.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act is much more than what you read in this piece. Disabled veteran, you can learn about it in the publications section of UnitedSpinal.org. There, you can download a PDF of our FHAA publication in English or Spanish. You will learn much more about exercising your housing rights if you believe that you are a victim of discrimination.
VetsFirst will be promoting the need for accessible housing in Washington, D.C., too. The fight for accessible housing continues, including the need to increase opportunities for veterans who need help making their existing homes accessible. As long as there are veterans who need accessible housing, we will be here.