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DOJ settles New Orleans-based disability discrimination suit

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The Department of Justice announced on October 3 that the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) and seven private developers have agreed to pay $250,000 to settle claims that they violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to design and construct eight multifamily residential properties and associated places of public accommodation so that they are accessible to persons with disabilities. As part of the settlement, the defendants also agreed to make extensive retrofits to remove accessibility barriers at the properties.

The settlement, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, requires the defendants to pay all costs related to the retrofits, provide $200,000 fora settlement fund to compensate individuals harmed by the inaccessible housing, and pay a civil penalty of $50,000 to the federal government.

“Under federal law, people with disabilities must have the same access to housing as other people,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “These eight properties house thousands of residents, many of whom live with a disability. This settlement will ensure that residents with disabilities will have an equal opportunity to live safely in and enjoy their homes.”

“All citizens deserve safe, affordable, and accessible housing,” said U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “The successful resolution of this matter helps meet the needs of our vulnerable, disabled, and elderly residents.”

The properties at issue are Bienville Basin, Columbia Parc, Faubourg Lafitte, Fischer Senior Village, Guste III, Harmony Oaks, Marrero Commons and River Garden. Seven of these properties were developed as part of HANO’s post-Hurricane Katrina redevelopment of its public housing projects.

The accessibility barriers alleged to exist at the properties include, among other violations, steps and excessive slopes leading to unit entry doors or building entrances from sidewalks and other public areas; common areas and amenities that are not usable by persons with disabilities, such as mailboxes mounted too high for persons using wheelchairs to reach; insufficiently wide openings at interior doors that make them inaccessible for many persons with mobility impairments; inadequate interior space to maneuver a wheelchair; and inaccessible parking.

Individuals who believe they or someone they know may have had difficulties by inaccessible features at any of the above properties should contact the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov or leave a message at 1-800-896-7743 Ext. 996.

The Justice Department, through the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Civil Rights Division, enforces the FHA, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. Among other protections, the FHA requires that all multifamily housing constructed after March 13, 1991, have basic physical accessibility features, including, among other things, accessible routes without steps to all single-story, ground-floor units and to all units in a building served by an elevator. The ADA protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in public accommodations, including the rental offices and associated restrooms and parking at issue in this case.

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