How private management of public housing hurts people with disabilities – New York Daily News

2022-07-30 09:15:11 By : Ms. CIndy Liu

July is Disability Pride Month, yet thousands of tenants with disabilities living in privately managed NYCHA buildings have little reason to celebrate. Many are trapped in unsafe and inaccessible apartments thanks to a little-known NYCHA policy that severely limits their ability to transfer apartments — effectively making them prisoners in their own homes or forcibly homeless.

The Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program is NYCHA’s re-branding of the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, which allows NYCHA to convert public housing to privately run Section 8 housing by bringing in private developers, landlords and management companies who rehabilitate and manage buildings in dire need of repairs.

Clara Russo, a woman with mental and physical disabilities, in her NYCHA apartment. (Richard Harbus/for New York Daily News)

Although NYCHA claims that the RAD program improves building conditions and protects tenants’ rights, their transfer policy clearly discriminates against people with disabilities and others who need to transfer apartments quickly, such as survivors of domestic violence, by severely limiting when, how and where tenants can transfer apartments.

Under NYCHA’s transfer policy, tenants in RAD buildings are only allowed to transfer within the limited bundle owned by the same private company. These bundles have few vacancies and long waiting lists, forcing tenants to stay in unsafe apartments. In addition, RAD tenants are not allowed to transfer back to NYCHA buildings.

By comparison, tenants in NYCHA buildings have the right to transfer to any other development across the five boroughs for disability accommodations and a variety of other reasons.

If a tenant with a disability needs to be transferred outside a bundle for medical or other reasons, NYCHA will only issue that tenant a “portable Section 8 voucher” and tell them to find an apartment on their own in the private rental market — a daunting and often fruitless exercise given skyrocketing rent inflation, lack of accessible apartments and rampant discrimination by landlords who illegally refuse to accept housing vouchers.

Although NYCHA does not make transfer data available, a recent report stated that 34% of NYCHA tenants (an estimated 120,000 to 187,000 people) are living with a disability. As legal service providers, we see NYCHA and RAD tenants requesting transfers to units that can accommodate wheelchairs and other devices. Others request transfers to move closer to medical providers, to leave an uninhabitable apartment that exacerbates health conditions, or to move to locations that do not exacerbate sensory or mental health disabilities.

Despite the urgent need for both requests, we see NYCHA tenants enjoying far more flexibility and availability when it comes to getting the transfers they need than RAD tenants. Although to be clear, the transfer process is also a nightmare for NYCHA tenants who must often wait years to get a transfer to a safe and accessible apartment.

The impact of NYCHA’s discriminatory RAD transfer policy is devastating, endangering tenants’ lives and taking away their safety and dignity. Our organization represents a client in a RAD building who has several mobility disabilities that make it difficult to navigate the one-bedroom apartment shared with another disabled sibling. The unit is so small that they have to sleep in the living room and cannot fit living room furniture outside of their bed. They are also unable to perform physical therapy exercises they need to maintain mobility and have difficulty traveling for doctors’ appointments in another borough.

Another one of our clients in a RAD building developed mental health disabilities after a violent assault and was trapped in an unsafe apartment, which exacerbated their disabilities because they feared another attack and were forced to relive their assault and trauma daily. NYCHA’s transfer policy made it hard for them to sleep, learn, concentrate or enter and exit their building without triggering their disabilities and experiencing further trauma.

Tyrae White, a disabled boy, was injured by scalding hot radiator pipes that NYCHA failed to repair despite repeated requests. (Viorel Florescu/for New York Daily News)

Not only is this policy unnecessary and unconscionable, it also arguably violates federal, state and local anti-discrimination laws, which ban discrimination on the basis of disability and require public entities like NYCHA to affirmatively accommodate a tenant’s disabilities. It may also violate the law creating the RAD program, which requires that RAD tenants keep the same rights that they had as public housing tenants.

If NYCHA truly cared about tenants with disabilities and other vulnerable tenants, it would allow RAD tenants to transfer across NYCHA’s entire portfolio — whether public or RAD units — in all five boroughs. NYCHA already manages a complicated transfer policy and waitlist in its public housing program, meaning it could easily carry out a similar policy in RAD buildings. NYCHA also has a great deal of control and oversight in RAD conversions and would have the authority to oversee transfers across its housing portfolio.

In addition, NYCHA must also make sure vacant apartments are turned over quickly for re-occupancy and address the disrepair and dysfunction issues in RAD and other NYCHA buildings that have long been the source of criticism, including lack of repairs, poor quality repairs, improper or hazardous construction practices, irregular services at management offices, lack of transparency, grievance procedure confusion and a refusal to listen to tenant feedback. NYCHA should also consider interim relocations using the federal subsidy if there is not an available vacant apartment matching a tenant’s accommodation needs, in addition to addressing these other concerns.

Making the RAD program more accessible for people with disabilities and others is not only a legal obligation, but a moral one that ensures NYC is truly a diverse, vibrant and inclusive city for everyone.

Gyori is a Skadden fellow and staff attorney at Legal Services NYC.

Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News

Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News