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City housing authority given extension to deliver housing for disabled

City housing authority given extension to deliver housing for disabled
Baltimore City Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

A federal judge has approved an agreement between the Baltimore Housing Authority and the U.S. Justice Department giving the city more time to provide accessible housing to people with disabilities.

District Judge J. Frederick Motz approved a change Friday to a 2004 consent decree in a lawsuit brought by the Maryland Disability Law Center that accused the city of failing the accommodate the needs of the disabled in public housing.

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The Justice Department determined that while Baltimore had not met the targets set in the 2004 settlement, it has made a good effort and had earned an extension.

"We are pleased with the significant progress made by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City to implement the terms of the original decree," said Vanita Gupta, head of the department's Civil Rights Division. "We look forward to working with the Housing Authority to create new accessible housing opportunities for persons with disabilities and enhancing their quality of life."

The department said that as of Aug. 31 the housing authority had provided all but 54 of the 756 housing units it had promised in order to meet federal accessibility standards. The judge extended the city's deadline to Dec. 31, 2016.

The 2004 decree also called for the city to create 500 housing units for non-elderly people with disabilities. The new agreement gives the city, which had delivered 411 such dwellings by the end of August, the same extension.

The order also gives the city until Dec. 31, 2017, to deliver on its promise of 100 "long-term affordable" housing units for disabled people who are not elderly.

Though a spokeswoman, housing authority Executive Director Paul T. Graziano said: "We agree with the DOJ's assessment. This continues to be a collaborative and non-adversarial process, and we are confident that we are nearing completion of this important work."

The disability law center filed suit in 2002, claiming that the city had acted systematically to keep disabled people out of its housing. Advocates charged at the time that as many as 15,000 low-income disabled residents needed housing or were living in authority housing that fell short of their needs.

The suit was based in part of complaints such as one from a paralyzed woman who lived in a city-owned rowhouse with no first-floor bathroom, requiring her to drag herself upstairs or get her children to carry her. In that case, the woman had been waiting years for an apartment that would meet her needs.

Federal law has required local housing authorities to accommodate the needs of the disabled since 1973. That mandate was bolstered in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

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