ASSISTED LIVING PROGRAMS DISCRIMINATE AGAINST WHEELCHAIR USERS, ACCORDING TO FHJC COMPLAINT
The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) has filed a new disability discrimination complaint at the New York State Division of Human Rights against the owners and operators of Brooklyn Boulevard ALP, an assisted living facility with 184 housing units located at 636 Louisiana Avenue in Brooklyn, and Boulevard ALP Queens, an assisted living facility with 239 housing units located at 71-61 159th Street in Flushing. The named respondents are corporate entities Brooklyn Boulevard ALP LLC and Queens Boulevard ALP LLC, along with the facilities’ respective owners, Louisiana Purchase LLC and Boulevard ALP Associates LLC.
Responding to a complaint claiming that the facilities discriminate against people who use wheelchairs, the FHJC began an investigation in January 2022, assigning testers to pose as family members of individuals seeking to apply to the facilities. According to the complaint, Boulevard employees made numerous discriminatory statements to the testers who claimed their relative used a wheelchair, insisting that potential residents who could not walk either unassisted, or with the use of a cane or rollator, required a “higher level of care,” than Boulevard offered. When testers pointed out that their relatives lived independently and would not need any assistance with being pushed or with transferring to and from their wheelchair, the agents held firm to the “no wheelchair” policy. One agent asked, “There’s no way he could try to learn how to use a rollator?”
By contrast, testers who claimed their family member was able to walk without assistance were encouraged to apply. According to the New York State Human Rights law, housing providers, including owners and operators of assisted living facilities, may not turn down home seekers based on their disability status, and are also required to make reasonable accommodations which “may be necessary to afford (a) person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.”
The law also prohibits printed statements which directly express a housing limitation based on disability. As of the filing date, the facilities’ websites both contain the statement “…Boulevard ALP is unable to accept residents who are chronically in a wheelchair and chronically require the assistance of another person to transfer or ambulate,” according to the complaint.
The full complaint can be read here.
“Too often, the operators of assisted living facilities make negative, paternalistic assumptions about wheelchair users, instead of complying with fair housing laws and making their facilities more open and inclusive,” stated FHJC Executive Director/General Counsel Elizabeth Grossman. “It’s time for this kind of discrimination to end.”
The FHJC is represented by Tanya Kessler, Jota Borgmann, and Kevin Cremin with Mobilization for Justice, Inc.
“Unfortunately, discrimination against people who use wheelchairs by assisted living facilities is rampant in New York,” said Tanya Kessler, Senior Staff Attorney. “Since wheelchair users often do not get into the door of a facility, or fear retaliation as residents if they do speak up, the work of Fair Housing Justice Center is crucial to ensuring equitable access to this kind of housing.”
In a related story, the New York State Department of Health recently announced changes to its regulations regarding discrimination against individuals with mobility impairments seeking to live in adult care facilities. The changes were driven by a lawsuit brought by the FHJC in 2018. Details of the announcement can be read here.
FHJC’s investigation in the Boulevard case was supported with funding from a Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI) grant received from the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The mission of the FHJC, a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.