Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In NY city, blind man fights to stay in his home

From PR Newswire:

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- On Nov. 23, Justin Williams, a blind tenant whose Section 8 rental subsidy was terminated without proper notice, filed suit in federal court alleging that the termination of his rental subsidy by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) was in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Among other things, Mr. Williams claims that when NYCHA terminated his subsidy, it failed to notify him in an effective manner given that he is blind.

NYCHA's failure to notify Mr. Williams of the termination was the culmination of a series of failures to notify him of important information, including two changes in the location of his NYCHA service center. Mr. Williams' lawsuit claims that NYCHA's policy of mailing only written notices to Section 8 tenants does not reasonably accommodate people with visual impairments, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the New York City Human Rights Law. He also claims that NYCHA denied him due process of law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

"NYCHA is claiming they did not know that Mr. Williams is disabled," said Mr. Williams' attorney, Nancy Goldhill of Staten Island Legal Services. "But he appeared in person at NYCHA's Staten Island office each year to recertify for his benefits until that office was closed. He came in with his white cane, and the NYCHA staff, recognizing his disability, helped him complete the necessary paperwork. To claim no one was aware that Mr. Williams is blind is simply absurd. NYCHA could have easily met its obligation by calling Mr. Williams to notify him that his rental subsidy was in jeopardy, but it failed to accommodate him in any way."

"I don't understand why this is happening," said Mr. Williams. "For 15 years I went to NYCHA's Staten Island office to recertify and they know I am blind. If my Section 8 voucher isn't restored, I don't know what I'll do or where I will live. I am afraid I will become homeless."

When he initially applied for the housing subsidy, Mr. Williams provided NYCHA with information regarding his disability and his receipt of Supplemental Security Income. Later, when Mr. Williams began to receive Social Security Disability benefits, he provided NYCHA staff with proof of this determination as well. In failing to provide Mr. Williams with actual notice that his housing subsidy was being terminated, NYCHA violated its duty to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.

Mr. Williams is seeking the restoration of his Section 8 subsidy as well as an order that NYCHA cease its discriminatory policy by providing equal and meaningful access to all Section 8 benefits information in formats that are accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. Such an order would ensure that hundreds of others similarly situated to Mr. Williams will not have to go through the ordeal of facing homelessness because they cannot read notices.