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Overview of the Rehabilitation Act & Housing & Community Development Act

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Federal law prohibits many forms of discrimination in federally funded housing projects. In this lesson, you'll learn about the Rehabilitation Act, the Housing and Community Development Act, and how each prohibits housing discrimination.

The Acts in General

Donald is a real estate developer who is in the process of building a low-income housing complex with the aid of some federal grant money. He needs to make sure he complies with requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 109 of Title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974.

In a nutshell, Section 109 prevents Donald from engaging in housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex, and Section 504 adds disability to the list of illegal discrimination. We'll refer to people falling into one of these categories as members of a protected class for the rest of our lesson.

Covered Housing

The Rehabilitation Act and the Housing and Community Development Act don't apply to all housing or housing activity. These Acts only apply to any property or activity that is at least partially funded with money from the federal government. Consequently, housing built with at least some federal grant money and properties being rented to low-income families with federal subsidies fall within the Acts. Since Donald's apartment complex is partially funded by a federal grant and will receive rent subsidies from the federal government, the construction and leasing of the apartments fall under the Acts.

Section 109

As we discussed briefly above, Section 109 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 prohibits discrimination in housing based upon race, color, national origin, religion, or sex. The scope of activities prohibited under Section 109 is very broad. You can't treat a member of a protected class any differently than you treat any other person.

For example, Donald can't deny a rental unit to a person just because she is a member of a protected class. He can't impose eligibility requirements on members of a protected class that he doesn't impose on other people. Donald can't segregate members of a protected class in a separate floor or building of his apartment complex. He must provide the same benefits to renters who are members of a protected class that he provides to other people, such as use of common areas like pools and fitness rooms.

Section 504

As you recall, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination in the sale or renting of housing based upon a person's disability. Again, you have to treat disabled persons in the same manner that you treat nondisabled persons in the context of renting or selling real estate.

Who's considered disabled under Section 504? A disabled person is someone who suffers from one or more physical or mental impairments that substantially impairs a major life activity. Life activity is broadly defined and includes things like hearing, talking, seeing, walking, standing, lifting, carrying, learning, and working.

Providers of federally assisted housing, like Donald, need to take special care in how they construct and rent out properties. Section 504 makes it illegal for Donald to segregate disabled renters from other people. For example, Donald must make sure there are rental units accessible to disabled renters on multiple floors--if there is an elevator--rather than segregating the disabled to the first floor. Moreover, in a multiple-building complex, accessible units should be dispersed throughout the buildings rather than segregated to just one building. Common amenities, such as lobbies, hallways, pools, and the like, should also be accessible.

The law doesn't require absolute accessibility everywhere, however. Not all buildings and units need to be accessible, but there should be enough so that disabled persons have an equal opportunity to benefit from the housing and have the same type of amenities offered to nondisabled persons.

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