Discriminatory Barriers exist with City of Phoenix’s Housing Choice Voucher Lottery

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Update: This issue has now been settled. Read the Settlement of HUD Complaint against City of Phoenix media release for more information about the settlement.

MEDIA RELEASE

After Waiting 11 Years, People with Disabilities and Low Income Families with Limited English Proficiency Face Discriminatory Barriers in the City of Phoenix’s Housing Choice Voucher Lottery

PHOENIX — After waiting 11 years to apply for a housing choice voucher to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market in Phoenix, people with disabilities and low income families not proficient in English will face discrimination in the application process, according to two Arizona fair housing organizations. Beginning 9am Monday, August 8, through Sunday, August 14 at 5 p.m., the City of Phoenix Housing Department will accept online applications only. The application, available in English and Spanish, can be launched from a link on Phoenix Housing Department’s website. Once the application period closes, 10,000 applicants will be randomly selected and added to a wait list using a lottery. The Southwest Fair Housing Council (SWFHC) and the Arizona Fair Housing Center (AFHC) claim that City of Phoenix’s current process to open the wait list discriminates against individuals with disabilities and families and individuals who do not speak English well.

Jay Young, Southwest Fair Housing Council’s Director, states: “The City’s online application is inaccessible for people who are blind or have other disabilities that limit their ability to read printed language and use screen reading software.” He added, “with simple changes, people who use screen reading software could independently and confidentially submit their online application.” “People with disabilities who do not have access to computers with internet access will have more limited choices of accessible locations and hours of operation where they can get assistance,” stated Young. “The short 5-day window to apply disadvantages people with disabilities who may have to make arrangements for specialized transportation that may take several days to schedule,” said Young.

“Many people have been waiting so long for an opportunity to apply for a housing choice voucher that they are not regularly checking the Housing Department’s website,” stated Enrique Medina, Arizona Fair Housing Center’s Director. “The City has not been proactive in its outreach and media effort to make sure that low-income families from different ethnic communities who speak other languages and people with disabilities know about this opportunity,” said Medina. “We fear that many people do not know they can apply because the non-English media has not been contacted to help get the word out and the City has not reached out to agencies serving people with disabilities,” added Medina. “And as far as we can tell the Housing Department has not made arrangements to provide language assistance as they are required to do,” stated Medina.

The City’s HCV program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is available for low-income individuals and families to provide affordable housing in the community of their choice. Program participants pay at least 30 percent of their adjusted gross monthly income toward their rent to a private landlord of their choice and the program will pay the landlord the remaining balance of the rent.

“The City of Phoenix must fulfill its obligations under the Fair Housing Act and ensure that all eligible applicants have the same opportunity to submit a pre-application for its Housing Choice Voucher Program Wait List Lottery regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex, or disability,” said Young. To that end, SWFHC, AFHC and other advocacy agencies, including the William E. Morris Institute for Justice, the Arizona Center for Disability Law, Community Legal Services, the Statewide Independent Living Center, and the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing met with the Housing Department and asked them to briefly delay the wait list opening to make arrangements to:

  • accept paper and online applications,
  • do more public service announcements and press releases about the wait list to disability advocacy groups and service providers and non-English media,
  • take applications for four weeks before closing and doing the lottery,
  • fix the online application so people who are blind or have other print disabilities can independently and confidentially apply for the program, and
  • make important information and the application available in several other languages spoken by many people in Phoenix, and
  • provide vital documents in other languages and language assistance, as necessary.

The City refused to make these changes, although the Housing Department made other requested changes. On July 28, 2016, the Arizona Center for Disability Law and the William E. Morris Institute for Justice filed discrimination complaints with the U. S. Department of Justice, which enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and the U. S. Housing and Urban Development, responsible for enforcing fair housing laws about the discriminatory wait list process.

The SWFHC and the AFHC want the public to know the following:

  • Applicants are required to complete their applications online as the process is now. Public facilities such as libraries may provide computer access at no cost. Online applications may be submitted 24 hours/day.
  • Housing staff will be available August 8 – August 14 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in person and over the telephone.
  • Applicants with disabilities who wish to request a reasonable accommodation, may do so beginning Monday, August 1. Customers may call the City’s Housing Department at (602) 262-7497 and leave a message. The City states it will respond to each caller within one business day. The City asks that callers be sure to clearly state their name, telephone number, and the reasonable accommodation you are requesting (e.g., I am a home-bound disabled person without internet access who needs assistance with submitting my pre-application). Examples of reasonable accommodations might include but are not limited to taking an application by telephone, providing an ASL interpreter to answer questions, or accepting a paper application.
  • If you are an individual who speaks a language other than English and need language assistance to complete the application, call the City’s Housing Department at (602) 534-1974 and ask for assistance. The City uses a language line.
  • If you are not provided necessary reasonable accommodations or language assistance, you may contact SWFHC at 1-888-624-4611 or 602-252-3423 or the AFHC at 602-548-1599 for more information and help.

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