HUD’s New Guidance Helps Olmstead Efforts: Department Supports Housing Increase

Thursday, June 14th, 2013

Over the last few months, the staff of M&L Special Needs Planning, LLC has provided much discussion and analysis of housing needs and housing options for individuals with disabilities. This is partly in preparation for the release of our Independent Living Program and Housing Project (a database which will contain information on housing and independent living programs from across the United States), and partly because, as anyone who is researching housing options for individuals with disabilities is aware, it is an issue of extreme importance. The lack of affordable, integrated, and appropriate housing for individuals with special needs has long been of concern to members of the special needs community, and as more and more institutions and segregated housing programs are phased out – integrating more and more individuals into community settings – the lack of housing for individuals with disabilities is becoming increasingly apparent.

The National Council on Disability (NCD) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are taking steps to address this issue. On May 21st, the NCD published a letter that was sent to Shaun Donovan, Secretary for HUD, calling for “guidance in complying with the Supreme Court’s Olmstead vs. L.C.” Last week (perhaps in response to this letter), HUD published new guidance that informs HUD-assisted housing providers on how they can support state and local Olmstead efforts. According to the press release that announced the publication, the guidance is intended to support efforts to “increase integrated housing opportunities for individuals with disabilities who are transitioning from, or at serious risk of entering, institutions and other restrictive, segregated settings.”

For those of you who may not be familiar with the term Olmstead, it refers to a decision made by the Supreme Court (Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581) in 1999, in which it was decided that unnecessary institutionalization constitutes discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In other words, unjustified segregation of individuals with disabilities is illegal.  As a result of this ruling, many states are now working towards deinstitutionalization, and are assisting individuals who live in segregated settings to integrate into community based settings where they can receive the care and supports they need. HUD and HUD funded housing programs play a valuable role in state and local Olmstead efforts – the department is a valuable resource for affordable and integrated housing opportunities for individuals transitioning from institutions to community based settings.

The guidance published by HUD (read it here) is intended to provide information about Olmstead.  It clarifies how recipients of federal financial assistance from HUD can assist state and local Olmstead efforts, and encourages housing providers to support Olmstead implementation by increasing the integrated housing opportunities that are available for individuals with disabilities.[i] The document also confirms HUD’s commitment to “providing individuals with long term disabilities a meaningful choice in housing and the delivery of long term health care and support services.” As well, HUD states that it will continue to research ways in which additional housing units for individuals can be funded, will continue to fund single site supportive housing, and will explore how existing HUD-assisted housing units can provide “individuals with disabilities increased opportunities to exercise autonomy, independence, and self-determination in living arrangements that have the comforts and qualities of home.” HUD also recommends that public housing agencies and other housing providers receiving federal financial assistance from HUD take into account the needs of individuals with disabilities as they manage their housing portfolio and plan for new housing development.

In addition to these recommendations, HUD reaffirms the role that the Fair Housing Act plays in protecting against discrimination on the basis of disability. It suggests that the affirmatively furthering fair housing obligation offers opportunities for HUD and HUD funded programs to provide accessible, affordable appropriate housing for individuals with disabilities. Other housing and public transportation available in the area of the housing, and other factors that promote integration into the community should also be taken into account.

The guidelines outlined by HUD in this document will certainly benefit those individuals who may wish to pursue housing options funded by the department. It is important to note, however, that anything outlined in this guidance is limited to that department and to programs and housing providers funded by that department.

HUD recommends that anyone wishing for more information on public entities’ obligations under Olmstead refer to the Statement of the Department of Justice on Enforcement of the Integration Mandate of Title II of the American’s with Disabilities Act and Olmstead v. L.C. Contact information for representatives of HUD can also be found at the end of the document that outlines the guidance.

We hope that this information has proven useful – as always, please contact us with questions on this topic or anything related to special needs planning. We are more than happy to help! As well, stay tuned to our website – over the coming weeks, we will be interviewing operators, organizers and employees of various independent living programs and in the late summer early fall we will be launching our own Independent Living Program and Housing Database.

Thanks for stopping by our blog today – have a great week!

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