Feds try to eliminate housing for the deaf at complex built for hearing-impaired
Arizona is defying a federal order to eliminate apartments for deaf seniors at a housing complex built specifically -- for the deaf.
"I think it's about the most ridiculous thing I've heard in a while," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who attempted to negotiate the impasse. "There are a lot of stories of out-of-control regulators, but this just seems to be going to the extreme."
A 2005 federal study found that the U.S. had virtually no affordable housing for the deaf. So the federal government helped build Apache ASL Trails, a 75-unit apartment building in Tempe, Ariz., designed specifically for the deaf. Ninety-percent of the units are currently occupied by deaf and deaf-blind seniors.
But now, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development says Apache ASL Trails violates civil rights law -- because it shows a preference for the hearing-impaired.
"A preference or priority based on a particular diagnosis or disability and excluding others with different disabilities is explicitly prohibited by HUD's Section 504 regulations," says a HUD memo about the project. "There is no legal authority contained in any of Apache Trails funding to permit such a priority or preference."
HUD is threatening to pull all federal housing aid to Arizona unless it limits the number of hearing-impaired residents to 18 people. The agency would not forcibly remove current residents, but wants many of their units to be blocked off to deaf residents in the future once they leave.
However, when HUD approved and helped fund the project in 2008, it did so knowing that the property was specifically "designed for seniors who are deaf, hard of hearing and deaf blind."
"It's impossible to walk into this building and not see that real people were hurt and continue to be hurt," said Mary Vargas, an attorney for the residents.
The National Association for the Deaf has also stepped in, calling HUD's actions "atrocious" and "a tragic irony."
"HUD is forcing deaf and hard of hearing residents to live in isolation and firetraps," said the Association's CEO Howard Rosenblum in a letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "There is no statute or regulation that mandates any 25 percent quota."
State housing director Michael Trailor refuses to comply with the federal orders.
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