For the first time in decades, federal officials intend to amend regulations preventing disability discrimination in housing and are seeking public comments.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is seeking public input as it considers modifying regulations pertaining to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Section 504 prohibits disability discrimination in various situations, including any program receiving federal housing agency funds. HUD, however, noted that since the regulations were first published in 1988, the housing market has seen substantial changes.
HUD officials have noted an increased demand for accessible housing in community based services. This is due in part to a nearly 24-year old Supreme Court ruling.
In June 1999, the Supreme Court handed down the historic Olmstead v. L.C. decision, which required all states to end the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities and ensure that they receive services in the most integrated environment possible.
Two disabled women living in nursing homes in Georgia, the late Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, were involved in this case. Curtis and Wilson asked state officials to allow them to live in the community in their own homes.
Susan Jamieson of Atlanta Legal Aid filed a lawsuit on their behalf when the state denied their request. The Supreme Court heard the case after several appeals. Services for people with disabilities must be offered “in the most integrated setting possible,” according to the Supreme Court ruling.
Inclusive communities and accessible, affordable housing are at the core of HUD’s mission,” said Demetria L. McCain, principal deputy assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at the agency. “Modern standards for accessible program design must reflect advances in building practices and technology. Hearing from the public, particularly stakeholders most directly impacted, is an integral part of HUD’s rulemaking process.”
HUD wants the public to weigh in on how the standards should “account for advances in accessible design, the use of websites and other technology, auxiliary aids and services, including assistive technologies,” as well as whether an updated federal accessibility standard should be adopted.
The agency said it’s likely to change its definition of “individual with disabilities” and it is seeking input from stakeholders on how a lack of accessible, integrated, and affordable community-based housing is affecting people who are at risk of institutionalization and those who are attempting to leave group homes and other facilities.
One critical concern is the length of the waitlists for affordable, accessible housing. Some disabled people can qualify for Section 8. However, this can be a years-long process.
According to a CBPP examination of Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data, only two of the 50 largest housing agencies have average wait durations of less than a year for families who have made it off the waiting list; the longest have wait times of up to eight years. Families in need of vouchers have waited on waitlists for over 2.5 years on average nationwide before receiving them.
Disability discrimination is the most common form of civil rights complaint received by HUD, accounting for more than half of all complaints submitted to the agency, authorities said, with 582 filed in fiscal year 2022 alone.
According to HUD, compliance reviews have revealed widespread issues, such as a lack of physical accessibility in newly constructed or modified public housing and other affordable housing programs, as well as a failure to meet requirements for reasonable accommodations, ensuring effective communication, and discrimination against those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, among others. Until July 24, HUD is accepting public comments. The agency will then propose a new rule after that.
Affordable, accessible housing represents independence for millions of Americans with disabilities. Disabled people deserve housing that is accessible and affordable. Hopefully, by recognizing how hard it is to find accessible housing, we can all work together to minimize housing barriers for disabled people.
Acosta, Sonya, and Erik Gartland. “Families Wait Years for Housing Vouchers Due to Inadequate Funding.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 22 July 2021, https://www.cbpp.org/research/housing/families-wait-years-for-housing-vouchers-due-to-inadequate-funding.
Diament, Michelle. “Feds Seek to Revamp Rules Related to Disability Housing.” Disability Scoop, 20 June 2023, http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2023/06/20/feds-seek-to-revamp-rules-related-to-disability-housing/30430/.
“How Two Women Changed Thousands of Lives.” Disability Rights Texas, 17 June 2019, http://www.disabilityrightstx.org/en/2019/06/17/olmstead20th/.
Shapiro, Joseph. “Lois Curtis, Who Won a Landmark Civil Rights Case for People with Disabilities, Died.” NPR, 5 Nov. 2022,