More often than not, people think of housing discrimination as a bias against a race, sex, gender, or religion. But buildings can discriminate too. Broken sidewalks, wheelchair ramps that are too steep, missing handrails, and more can discriminate against the disabled. Problems can be found in individual units and in public spaces.
“Some of the things we’ve seen are doors that close too quickly, so people in scooters or wheelchairs have trouble accessing a building or apartment,” says Michelle Martin, Community Relations Supervisor for the city of Salinas, Kansas. “Sometimes the kitchen cabinets are too high. These things affect the way people go about their lives every day.”
HUD’s Section 504 regulations prohibit this kind of discrimination — intentional or not — and it’s vital for property owners and managers to comply, if not from a sense of decency, then to avoid massive financial losses in civil lawsuits.
“I think part of it is that even in new construction some architects aren’t familiar with the intricacies of the design standards,” says Amanda Lee Gross Vice President of Training and Compliance Policy for US Housing Consultants. “Even the most well-meaning of architects and developers can inadvertently create issues where the property’s design actually creates discrimination.”
In fact, the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) has reported that a significant percentage of new construction has accessibility issues.
Then there are older properties, which may have been constructed at a time when very little thought was given to accessibility. And don’t believe that means you’re “grandfathered in.” Everyone needs to comply whether the building opened yesterday or in 1901; though the specifics can be different depending on the funding program and several other factors.
FHEO Conducts Section 504 Compliance Reviews
HUD-initiated Section 504 compliance reviews also underscore ongoing discrimination faced by individuals with disabilities. Significant noncompliance has been found with respect to physical accessibility requirements within public housing and other HUD-assisted affordable housing programs. Since FY 2020 there have been 1,842 complaints.
Compliance reviews have demonstrated that newly constructed and substantially altered multifamily housing developments frequently do not meet the accessibility requirements under UFAS. Furthermore, compliance reviews often reveal that HUD-assisted programs and activities do not meet other Section 504 requirements, such as the provision of reasonable accommodations, establishment and maintenance of grievance procedures, ensuring effective communication, appropriate tenanting policies to ensure maximum use of accessible housing by individuals with disabilities, occupancy preferences, or physical dispersal of accessible units.
These results are consistent with the findings of US Housing Consultants’ property assessors who routinely audit properties for accessibility standards. Our assessors typically review several hundred properties a year and nearly every property contains some level of physical non-compliance with UFAS standards.
“Sometimes it’s just the positioning of the dumpster or the wrong faucet handle, but quite often, it’s much more substantial.” says Scott Precourt, Founder and Senior Partner of US Housing Consultants. “We’ve seen properties where the perception is that they’re in compliance with UFAS, but in reality, there are many areas where the installed components simply don’t meet standards.”
Regular Updates of Section 504 UFAS Transition Plans
For owners and managers of USDA Rural Development properties, it’s important to remember that USDA/RD considers the UFAS transition plan to be a living document – one that needs to be updated every three years. This requirement was updated in 2022 in Unnumbered Letter 1-4-22.
US Housing Consultants offers compliance reviews that will help property owners and managers meet Section 504 standards. For failing items, we create a transition plan to help you understand exactly what went wrong and how to fix it. We can typically have a report prepared within two days. Remember that you can have a property that was fully compliant at one point that falls out of compliance. Our inspections can make this determination and can show you what went wrong or give you peace of mind that everything is still all right.
Contact us for more information or to schedule a review.