Los Angeles settles accessible housing lawsuit for $200 million

The Los Angeles City Council voted 12-0 on August 30 to spend $200 million over the next decade to resolve an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit concerning the accessibility of the City’s public housing stock.

“When our clients can’t find affordable, accessible housing, they end up homeless, or in nursing homes, or living in inaccessible apartments that isolate them from the community,” said Norma Jean Vescovo, executive director of the Independent Living Center of Southern California, in a news release. “Settlement of this case means we can bring people with disabilities out of the shadows and back into the community.”

According to a 2012 lawsuit, the city’s current supply of advertised accessible public housing units, which are mostly built by private developers and nonprofit organizations, fails to accommodate people with disabilities. Common complaints include narrow doorways, bathrooms without grab bars, and kitchen counter tops at inaccessible heights.

Under the settlement [PDF], the city must ensure that in 10 years it has 4,000 units in its public housing stock in compliance with ADA architectural standards. The City has discretion to reach this figure either by rehabilitating current units or building new ones.

At least 2,655 of these units must be built specifically for people who use wheelchairs. Federal law mandates that housing developments receiving federal money make 5 percent of their units accessible to people with mobility disabilities and 2 percent for people who are blind and deaf, according to EGP News.

The City must hire one or more experts to monitor the production schedule unit for the apartments, which must be geographically distributed throughout the county, the settlement states.

It must also, within 270 days from when the settlement goes into effect, create an online accessible housing registry.  Other requirements in the 56-page agreement focus on the City’s training obligations for property managers on ADA accessibility and reporting requirements.

The settlement is the largest of its type in the country, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“The unavailability of affordable, accessible housing is a critical issue for people with disabilities,” said Autumn Elliott, associate managing attorney with Disability Rights California, in a news release. “We look forward to working with the City of Los Angeles to reduce these barriers and promote full integration of people with disabilities in our community.”

The city must also pay $4.5 million to three advocacy groups that sued the city: the ILCSC, the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley, and Communities Actively Living Independent and Free. Along with attorneys from DRC, the plaintiffs were represented by the Disability Rights Legal Center, Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, and the David Geffen Law Office.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California must still approve the agreement.

An ongoing lawsuit, filed simultaneously in 2012 with the complaint against the city, continues against the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles.

Disability Rights California and Disability Rights Washington, the parent organization of Rooted in Rights, are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in California and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.