Accessibility front and center in major Baltimore housing discrimination agreement

roof of new house
Accessible Housing in Baltimore County

Baltimore County announced a comprehensive settlement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a coalition of civil rights groups March 15, agreeing to expand the city’s affordable housing stock and undertake a variety of measures to expand opportunities for people with disabilities to find accessible housing.

“Every person deserves a fair shot at opportunity and that starts with a decent, safe, and affordable place to call home,” HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a news release. “This agreement sets Baltimore County on a path to stronger, more inclusive communities where everyone can enjoy equal access to opportunity.”

In 2011, the Maryland Disability Law Center, the Public Justice Center, the Homeless Persons Representation Project, the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, the ACLU of Maryland, and the national NAACP filed a complaint with the HUD, accusing the County of reinforcing historic residential segregation patterns in its use of its federal and state housing rental funds.

Specifically, it alleged that the County directed a disproportionate amount of its funding toward elderly-only units, which primarily serve white populations, while simultaneously directing residents with Section 8 vouchers toward primarily low-income and minority populations.

According to a background and summary sheet [PDF] provided with the news release, the “overwhelming majority” of these units pre-date the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988, and thus are not designed to accommodate people with physical disabilities.

Under the agreement [PDF], the city will spend $30 million over 10 years to incentivize developers to build more than 1,000 affordable housing units, at least 10 percent of which must be fully accessible.

Further, it will provide 2,000 families with Section 8 vouchers, with the promise that they will be spread out among diverse neighborhoods. These homes must comply with FHA accessibility requirements.

The County must also set aside $3 million to remove accessibility barriers in affordable housing units and the county Office of Housing will hire a reasonable accommodation officer.

The County, which has never held public housing units, contains just 1,400 units of privately owned subsidized housing. More than 15,000 people are on the waiting list.

“We can’t change the past, but Baltimore County can now do better going forward,” said Tony Fugett, president of the Baltimore County branch of the NAACP, in a news release. “Opening up opportunities throughout the county for low-income families to live, work and go to school are the first important steps in creating a more inclusive Baltimore County.

“While only a beginning, it is our hope that this agreement marks a turning of the page from a long history of segregation and exclusion.”

A video about the agreement, from WBAL TV, can be seen here.

The Maryland Disability Law Center and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Maryland and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.