New York to overhaul community living services

A graphic of the outline of New York State with portions of New York State flag.
New York

After a decade of litigation, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Department of Justice and a coalition of disability advocates announced a settlement July 23, creating a five-year plan that will pave the way for as many as 4,000 individuals to transition from adult homes to more integrated supported housing units.

“Today’s settlement agreement reaffirms the right of people with disabilities to live independently and participate in all aspects of community life,” said Eve L. Hill, deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release. “This agreement creates opportunities for thousands of New Yorkers with mental illness to participate fully in community life, enriching local communities and ending the stigmatization of institutional life.”

For years, disability advocates have argued that the state’s network of 23 adult homes are nothing more than institutional, segregated settings, inappropriate for the vast majority of their residents.

The settlement requires the state to reevaluate all of its residents to determine which of them can transition to supported housing services, where they can live in their own homes while continuing to receive specialized treatment, according to a New York Times article.

The state has agreed to build at least 2,000, and potentially as many as 4,000, new supported housing units.

Disability Rights New York, then known as Disability Advocates, originally filed a class action lawsuit against the state in 2003, accusing it of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily segregating thousands of people with disabilities in its adult homes. The lawsuit was, in part, prompted by an extensive New York Times investigation into the system.

In 2009, following a five-week non jury trial, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York found that the state’s system violated the ADA and ordered the state to file a correction plan. This plan was rejected by District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in 2010, who required the state to develop 1,500 residences each year for three years and additional beds until the state was in compliance with ADA regulations.

On appeal, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit threw it out in April 2012, finding that the Disability Advocates did not have “associational standing” to bring the lawsuit to begin with.

As a formality, the DOJ filed a complaint in the Eastern District Court on July 23, along with the settlement, which still must be approved by the court.

“This settlement gives adult home residents the opportunity to thrive in the community,” said Kevin Cremin, director of litigation for disability and aging rights with MFY Legal Services, a party in the lawsuit, in a news release. “They’ll live in their own homes, where they will have the freedoms most of us take for granted—to choose when to wake up, what to eat, how to spend the day, and who to spend it with.”

Along with Disability Rights New York and MFY Legal Services, the other parties involved in the lawsuit were the Bazelon Center for Mental Health LawNew York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the Urban Justice Center, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP.

Disability Rights New York and Disability Rights Washington, which operates this Galaxy Website, are both part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.