Wake County settles complaint alleging disability discrimination in housing program

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RALEIGH, December 5, 2017 – Legal Aid of North Carolina announced today that it has settled a federal discrimination complaint filed against Wake County Human Services on behalf of a disabled woman who received rental assistance through the county’s Rental Assistance Housing Program. Under the terms of the settlement, the county will provide additional protections to program participants who are disabled and those who have limited English proficiency.

Wake County’s Rental Assistance Housing Program targets individuals with serious psychiatric disabilities who are homeless and in need of ongoing mental health and supportive services to be able to live independently in the community.

The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2015, alleged that the county had violated the federal Fair Housing Act by terminating the client’s rental assistance for reasons related to her disability, failing to provide her with an interpreter despite knowing that she had limited proficiency in English, and depriving her of a fair procedure when it terminated her rental assistance.

Under the settlement, the county agreed to:

  • Implement a new appeals procedure that provides additional protections for disabled program participants who are at risk of having their voucher terminated;
  • Introduce a written policy that informs participants of their right to request certain accommodations from their landlord, such as allowing an individual who has difficulty climbing stairs to move to a ground floor apartment;
  • Provide an interpreter to program participants with limited English proficiency who are appealing the termination of their rental assistance; and
  • Pay an undisclosed sum of money to compensate the client.

“The Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid is committed to ensuring that individuals with severe psychiatric disabilities, just like all residents of North Carolina, are able to benefit from the protections of the Fair Housing Act,” said Lauren Brasil, one of the attorneys at the Fair Housing Project who represented the client. 

“Wake County is to be commended for implementing a new appeals process for individuals with severe mental disabilities who want to challenge the termination of their rental assistance. By giving these individuals the ability to contact Legal Aid and be represented by a lawyer at no cost when their rental assistance is at risk of being terminated, the county affords this vulnerable population a fighting chance to preserve their housing,” said Suzanne Chester, co-counsel on the case. “In addition, a written policy for making requests for accommodations helps people with disabilities live independently and avoid institutionalization.”

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Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Learn more at LegalAidNC.org.

Legal Aid’s Fair Housing Project works to eliminate housing discrimination and to ensure equal housing opportunity for all people through education, outreach, public policy initiatives, advocacy and enforcement. North Carolinians who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can contact the Fair Housing Project at 1-855-797-3247 or info@fairhousingnc.org. The project’s work is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program. Learn more about the project and fair housing laws at FairHousingNC.org.

Media Contacts
Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations, Legal Aid of N.C., 919-856-2132, SeanD@legalaidnc.org