It goes without saying that there is never enough housing for disabled people. However now, in an ironic twist of fate, an apartment complex in Arizona purpose-built for individuals with disabilities is being accused of reverse discrimination because it does not have enough residents without disabilities! The Apache ASL Trails complex community complex in Tempe, Arizona, is a 75-unit building which was specifically built to accommodate residents who are deaf or hearing-impaired. All of the units are wheelchair-accessible and have been fitted with such features as blinking lights and videophones to let the residents know, for example, that a doorbell is ringing, or that the garbage disposal is on. All of the units are filled at present and there is a waiting list. Around 85% of the residents have hearing problems and many have multiple disabilities. The complex was built with around $2.6 million of funding from the Housing and Urban Department.
Despite its impressive-sounding credentials however, the Apache ASL Trails and its hearing-impaired residents have been in a dispute for the past two years with federal and state officials, over whether the building violates the state anti-discrimination laws and the regulations for housing programs which are federally funded. The Housing and Urban Department (HUD) conducted a civil rights review in 2012, and concluded that the State of Arizona has "violated non-discrimination laws by giving preference to those who are hard of hearing", and because the minority of tenants who are not hearing-impaired is very small. HUD states that it is not planning to ask any residents to move from the complex, but the officials say that 75% of Apache's tenants should be seniors who do not have hearing problems. The Arizona officials and Apache's directors deny the allegations and claim that the complex is just as effective as housing for people without disabilities. They say that the claims that there are too many disabled residents are just nonsensical.
Since there is such a shortage of such purpose-built accommodation with specialised features like ramps and videophones, this accusation does seem very bizarre. However it appears that the state officials are concerned about possible segregation of the disabled, if there were no able-bodied, and non-disabled in the complex. This concern may be valid, considering that some communities have tried to keep the disabled out by passing zoning laws and aggressively enforcing restrictions on where group homes can be built. There needs to be housing specifically built for those with handicaps and special needs, while also making sure that this group of people live in communities where they are integrated with everyone in an inclusive setting, rather than segregated housing, as used to be the case in years gone by.
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