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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Housing & Transportation

September 15 & 16: National Call-In Days Urging Congress to Raise Harmful Spending Caps

Those who attended NCIL’s 2015 Annual Conference may remember Housing Subcommittee Chair Brian Peters asking advocates to talk to legislators about Sequestration. He talked about how it has hurt many programs that people with disabilities rely on, including housing, and how the effect will be cumulative with more and more cuts until 2021.

A man hold up a Fair Housing Sign at the My Medicaid Matters RallyNCIL is sharing the Action Alert for National Call-in Days to raise the spending caps. Please see below for details.

On September 15 and16, between 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Eastern, people from across the country will call their members of Congress and deliver a simple, unified message: raise the sequester caps and fully fund housing programs. Please join this effort to support critical housing programs by marking your calendar and following the instructions below on the designated days.

Background

The Budget Control Act of 2011’s spending caps have led to devastating cuts to critical housing programs. Additional “sequester” caps for fiscal year 2016 would bring more deep cuts for HUD and Rural Housing Services programs. These call-in days are being coordinated by Caps Hurt Communities, an advocacy campaign to build a movement of individuals and organizations committed to bringing an end to federal sequester caps. To learn more about the impact of the sequester caps on housing programs, please visit: nlihc.org/issues/budget.

Take Action

On September 15 and 16, between 9am-5pm (ET), please take a few moments to call your members of Congress. To do so, dial the Congressional switchboard at 877-210-5351 and ask to speak with your legislator. Ideally, you can make three calls – one to each of your Senators, and one to your Representative. Tell the receptionist in your legislator’s office how important affordable housing is to your community and leave this simple message:

“It’s time to pass a housing budget that works for our communities. Please raise the sequester caps and fully fund housing programs.”

Contact your elected officials

Thank You for Your Support!

An Update from the NCIL Housing Subcommittee: Representative Schakowsky Introduces the Inclusive Home Design Act!

On July 28, 2015, during the Rally at the Capitol during NCIL’s 2015 Annual Conference on Independent Living, Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky announced that she would be introducing the Eleanor Smith Inclusive Home Design Act that very day. The Inclusive Home Design Act is a bill that would have federally funded single-family homes incorporate Visitability.

equal housing opportunity symbolIf you are not familiar with the concept of Visitability, it is the idea, pioneered by Eleanor Smith of Concrete Change in Atlanta, that people with disabilities should be able to visit their neighbors, families, and friends. It has minimum requirements for single-family homes that, as colorfully described by someone, would allow a guest to “get in and pee”. The zero-step entrance and wide interior doors also provide the basics for a person with a disability to reside in, not just visit, a home.

The bill uses the new voluntary Visitability standard in the International Codes Commission/American National Standards Institute 117.1 1005 Type C unit. This would require at least one accessible entrance, an accessible interior circulation path, and a usable bathroom. It also would require a usable food prep area, and accessible lighting controls and outlets. This bill has been called the “federal Visitability bill.”

Representative Schakowsky followed through on her announcement, the bill was introduced in the House as H.R. 3260, and it currently has five co-sponsors: Representatives Clay (MO), Ellision (MN), Moore (WI), Holmes (DC), and Rangel (NY). It was referred to the House Committee on Financial Services, which is chaired by Rep. Hensarling (TX).

There is no Senate version at this time, although last year Senator Harkin introduced the Universal Home Design Act which would require Universal Design features in federally funded single family homes and townhomes.

New Mobility Magazine has a nice interview with Eleanor Smith about the Inclusive Home Design Act.

The NCIL Housing Subcommittee, along with other organizations such as ADAPT, will be advocating for H.R. 3260. We are asking you to reach out to your Representative to sign on to support this bill. Please provide feedback to Brian Peters at bpeters@independencefirst.org.

NCIL Applauds Supreme Court Fair Housing Decision

NCIL applauds the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to uphold a key provision of the 1968 Fair Housing Act regarding housing discrimination. The concept of disparate impact (that policies can be discriminatory even if they don’t seem to be on paper) was upheld for fair housing cases. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. decision recognized that claims of housing discrimination do not need a “smoking gun” show of intent.

The Supreme Court upheld the precedent that statistics and other evidence can be used to support a claim of a pattern of housing discrimination. Although this tool was not explicitly written into the Fair Housing Act as it was with, for example, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, multiple court decisions have long recognized that this is a valid approach to show discrimination and permissible for Fair Housing cases.

This case was very worrisome for many advocates because the Supreme Court previously attempted to hear two similar cases. This indicated that some on the court were eager to take on this issue despite it apparently being long-established in many courts. The two earlier cases were settled to avoid the risk of an unfavorable Supreme Court decision. This 5-4 decision indicates that it was a very close decision. Justice Anthony Kennedy surprised many by being the swing vote.

Although this case looked at racial discrimination, upholding the use means it could be used to show disability-related discrimination. It also means that efforts to desegregate racially (for example, more family housing in white suburbs) will benefit people with disabilities who will then have more options on where to live. The SCOTUS Blog has a good summary for people interested in the implications of the decision.

An Update from the NCIL Transportation Subcommittee

By Fred Hess, Subcommittee Member

Hi fellow transportation fixer uppers. My name is Fred Hess. I am an Advocacy Coordinator in Western Pennsylvania (PA) and work for Disability Options Network (DON), the CIL located in New Castle, PA. I am on 3 different transportation committees: NCIL’s Transportation Subcommittee, the PA Transportation Alliance and a regional transportation committee called Alliance for Transportation Working in Communities (ATWIC) in SW PA. I was proud to be a member of ATWIC’s steering committee and we came up a large report on the problems with transportation for people with disabilities.

I recently attended a presentation at the Lawrence County Commissioner’s board from the Southwestern PA Transportation Commission (SPC) where they were using disability information that I shared from the various groups I participate in as a guideline. So that just shows you that the work we do really does count. I stressed the need for 1000 pound lifts on transportation vehicles. I also made this point at the National Council on Disabilities (NCD) Forum in Pittsburgh on May 4 that several of our colleagues attended. That was a very interesting meeting, as we had some important people from the disability community all in one spot. If you’re going to get your issues out into the public, there was no better place to do it. We discussed transportation systems throughout the state and nation and how they affect people with disabilities. The largest problem from what I gathered is the train access. This isn’t limited to Amtrak. It seems that a lot of other inner city trains are badly in need of accessible stations and passenger cars.

We work to achieve our goal of no longer needing community advocacy anymore because the whole world will be accessible. It’s good to keep in mind that to get there we need to take little steps and you and I are taking them every day. Keep up the good work and one day one day the world will be our oyster.

For more information, contact Fred Hess at 724-652-5144 or fhess@disabilityoptionsnetwork.org.

A Documentary About Resisting Isolation and Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)

For the past 3+ years, filmmaker Drew Xanthopoulos has been making a feature documentary about resisting isolation and living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and invisible disabilities. He’s driven and flown tens of thousands of miles to meet families whose lives have been reshaped by MCS and also documented well-known activist Susan Molloy attending the 2014 NCIL conference in Washington DC. 

We have just launched a crowdfunding campaign to help complete the film and need the help of communities who want to raise empathy and awareness for experiences that are usually dismissed.

You can watch the unforgettable teaser and pledge support at bit.ly/SensitivesDoc.

The Sensitives - bit.ly/SensitivesDoc Kickstarter - Help us bring these stories to the world - (Image: A man sits at a small table in a room covered in metallic foil

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), also known as Environmental Illness (EI), is poorly understood. People develop severe migraines, rashes, fatigue, and loss of motor and speech skills when exposed to ordinary things like cleaning products, pesticides, and sometimes electronic and wireless technologies.

As with PTSD in the 1960s, viewed by the medical profession and much of society as a lapse of character in malingering Vietnam vets, sufferers of MCS find themselves isolated from family and friends, labeled, and treated with suspicion. The Sensitives explores an illness that tests families’ bonds like few others. Without an agreed-upon medical explanation the sick and their caretakers must figure out how to get better on their own.

The Sensitives intends to get past the masks and foil-lined rooms and meet the artists, social workers, and grandparents inside. In other words, the ordinary people driven to the fringes because of a very misunderstood condition.

People with Disabilities Priced Out of Nation’s Housing Market

Source: Technical Assistance Collaborative

According to a study released today by the Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC), and the Consortium for Citizens (CCD) with Disabilities Housing Task Force, the national average rent for a modestly priced one-bedroom apartment is more than the entire Supplemental Security Income (SSI) of a person with a disability. Priced Out in 2014 reveals that people with disabilities receiving SSI needed to pay 104 percent of their monthly income to rent a modest one-bedroom unit at the published fair market rent.

“From Bethel, Alaska to Boston, Massachusetts, to Tallahassee, Florida, we have an affordable housing crisis in our nation’s local communities, and it is particularly acute for people with disabilities on SSI. The effect is incontrovertible – too many people with disabilities on SSI are homeless or live in segregated settings,” stated Kevin Martone, TAC Executive Director. He added, “The human toll is inexcusable and the economic argument to address affordable housing is compelling.”

Action Alert: Your Advocacy Needed to Protect Housing

The US House of Representatives has begun consideration of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) appropriations bill, H.R. 2577. After the weekend (Friday-Monday), they will resume discussions with amendments expected to be offered.

equal housing opportunity symbolUnfortunately, language has already been included that will redirect the monies designated for the National Housing Trust Fund into the HOME Program, and the bill also forbids the funding of the Trust Fund by other means. An amendment to remove this language was deemed out of order.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition stated that they expect at least three amendments to be offered that should be opposed. NCIL’s reasons for opposing each amendment are offered below.

An amendment by Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH) to prohibit any Fair Housing Initiative Program funds to be used for the Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI)

PEI grants support local, private fair housing groups’ testing, complaint intake, and investigation efforts. PEI grantees are critical to enforcement efforts for the Fair Housing Act.

  • Disability-related complaints is the largest category of Fair Housing complaints. To remove funding for the PEI program would damage Fair Housing enforcement in many communities. This harms people with disabilities when fair housing enforcement is not readily available in communities.

An amendment by Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to cut every program funded by H.R. 2577 by an additional 1%

  • The THUD bill already contains many damaging cuts to housing programs, and does not make up for the loss of funding that was enacted after the Budget Control Act of 2013.

An amendment by Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) to prohibit HUD from using any funds to implement, enforce, or administer the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) final rule, or the AFFH Assessment Tool

  • After decades, HUD has finally begun to develop and finalize rules by which communities should ensure that their actions are not discriminatory against protected classes under the Fair Housing Act. All agencies funded through HUD have an obligation to proactively pursue integration, and the AFFH final rule and tool will clearly outline what the expectations are of communities to meet that integration mandate. This amendment is an attack on integration.

Please call your Representative immediately and urge opposition to these harmful amendments. To find contact information for your Representative, call the Congressional Switchboard at 877-210-5351 or visit www.house.gov.

You should:

  • State your opposition to H.R. 2577
  • State that you oppose the amendments offered by Reps. Stivers, Blackburn, and Gosar.

Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 2353, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015

Source: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget (PDF)

(Rep. Shuster, R-PA, and Rep. Ryan, R-WI)

With surface transportation funding authorization running out at the end of this month and hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk, the Administration does not oppose passage of H.R. 2353, recognizing that a short-term extension of these authorities will be necessary in order for the Congress to complete work on a long-term bill that increases investment to meet the Nation’s infrastructure needs. Unfortunately, H.R. 2353 represents yet one more short-term extension coming on top of the several short-term extensions that preceded it. This continuing pattern of uncertainty has already caused several States to cancel or defer projects during the height of summer construction season and has undermined the ability of States and localities to keep Americans at work building and repairing the Nation’s roads, bridges, and transit systems.

The President and Congressional Democrats have been very clear that increasing investment in the Nation’s infrastructure is a top priority. That is why the President laid out a vision for a 21st century surface transportation infrastructure, the GROW AMERICA Act, which would provide robust funding for all modes of surface transportation. The GROW AMERICA Act would also streamline project approval processes and implement innovative transportation policies that will make better use of taxpayer dollars while supporting millions of jobs, improving safety, and positioning the Nation’s economy for lasting growth. That proposal is fully paid for through existing revenues and by reforming the business tax system to help create jobs and spur investment while eliminating loopholes that reward companies for moving profits overseas.

The Administration is focused every day on what can be done to expand opportunity for every American. In today’s economy, that means building a first-class transportation system that attracts first-class jobs and takes American businesses’ goods all across the world. The Nation needs a multi-year authorization bill that makes significant and long-term investments in infrastructure. It is time for the Congress to end the era of short-term patches and chronic underinvestment. The Administration will not support continued failure in making the investments the Nation needs. The Administration expects that the Congress will use this two-month extension to make meaningful and demonstrable progress towards a significant bill in 2015. The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress towards this end.

Data for Housing Advocacy Locally and Nationally

By the NCIL Housing Subcommittee

The nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), always a great resource for information, published data recently on the use of housing vouchers. This data is a tool for advocacy that can be used in many communities.

Advocate Holds Fair Housing Symbol at 2011 My Medicaid Matters RallyThe data and fact sheets can be found at the CBPP website. You will see five options at the top of the page, which mostly lead to the lower half of the page, so use this information to understand what the data is showing you.

When you click on your state in the map, you’ll be presented with two options: Federal Rental Assistance and Housing Choice Voucher. With those two options, you’ll be led to various data on who benefits from the programs and what the demographics are.

Those fact sheets can be useful in correcting misperceptions on who the rental assistance serves. Nationwide, with the federal rental assistance programs, the vast majority are used by the elderly (34%), people with disabilities (26%) or households with children (36%), with some overlapping. Only 11% are childless adults who are not elderly or have a disability. What are the percentages for your state?

When you go further down the page, you’ll be presented with the opportunity to get more detailed data on “Housing Choice Voucher Utilization Data,” “Data on Number of Families using Housing Vouchers,” and “Sequestration Cuts in Housing Choice Vouchers.” You’re given the opportunity to select year(s), your state, and then whichever agency or agencies you want to see. For instance, you could select all of the housing authorities in your CIL’s service area. Don’t forget the state housing finance agency if they have vouchers as well and allocate them in your community.

It is recommended that you export the data to Excel for easier viewing.

How does this data help you?

Housing Choice Voucher Utilization shows you what percent of authorized vouchers are in use. Is your housing authority doing a good job of making sure that a high percentage of vouchers are being used? Which housing authority is doing a terrible job of using its vouchers? This can be a local advocacy tool.

Data on Number of Families Using Housing Choice Vouchers show quarterly data from 2012 up to 2014. You can select multiple quarters, and it’ll let you see how many households are using the voucher each quarter.

More importantly, for advocates, the impact of the sequestration is in the third table. This is the estimated reduction in vouchers as of December 2014. Nationwide, CBPP estimates that 85,000 vouchers have been lost. You can find the estimated loss for the housing authorities in your community, and use that as an advocacy tool with legislators.

Remember that the budget sequestration started on March 1, 2013. With the quarterly data table, notice that nationally in every quarter since January-March 2013 to April-June 2014, the number of vouchers used has been falling. Every quarter for six straight quarters! Is this what is happening with your local housing authorities? Is this true of the housing authorities in your area? Have they been bleeding vouchers since January-March 2013? How many families are affected? It appears that many housing authorities are anticipating the need for further cuts, and are not reallocating vouchers that households are no longer using.

Be aware that the sequestration cuts are ongoing, and Congress is determined to keep it active (even though they are providing additional “off-books” funding to the Pentagon). Much advocacy is needed with Congress to end the use of sequestration to cut the funding for many programs, including housing.

Interested in housing advocacy? Join the NCIL Housing Subcommittee! Contact Brian Peters at bpeters@independencefirst.org.

Stand Up For Transportation!

April 9, 2015 is Stand Up 4 Transportation Day, and over 100 events will be taking place around the country. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is calling for organizations and individuals to coordinate and participate in these events, and to join in their advocacy efforts for a long-term, sustainable, and reliable federal transportation funding bill.

Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) is the current transportation funding bill, and MAP-21 authorized funds for highways, highway safety and transit programs, and paratransit. However, MAP-21 provisions were only extended by Congress through May 31, 2015. It’s time to join forces with the transportation industry and local community organizations to demand that Congress invest in transportation!

On April 9, members of Congress will be in their home districts for the Spring Congressional recess, and APTA Chair Phil Washington is asking organizations and individuals to coordinate events and advocacy in their local communities. The goal of these efforts is to advocate for a long-term transportation funding bill that will provide a dedicated revenue source to fund the growth of public transit and highway programs before the expiration of the MAP-21 extension. We need to let our members of Congress know how vital investing in transportation is to the disability community, and how we will be at risk if there is no federal funding commitment.

For more information on this issue or how to get involved, visit the APTA’s Stand Up 4 Transportation page.