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

NCIL Policy on Housing & Transportation: Overview

NCIL Board Member Felicia AgreliusProtecting and Expanding Our Housing Opportunities

NCIL supports initiatives to increase accessible, affordable, healthy / nontoxic, decent, safe, and integrated housing. NCIL is an inclusive cross-disability organization and applies the term ‘accessible’ broadly, emphasizing physical accessibility, accommodations for persons with sensory disabilities (visual or hearing), mental health disabilities, developmental and intellectual disabilities as well as persons with chemical and electrical sensitivities. Housing is a key component in rebalancing our long term care system. Diverting individuals with disabilities from nursing homes and other institutions and transitioning them to the community saves money. The need for housing that accommodates a wide range of disabilities is increasing due to community living options replacing costly and unjust institutionalization, many veterans returning with disabilities, the high rate of homelessness among people with disabilities, and the aging of the population. Housing is a complicated subject, with many pieces of the puzzle that must come together in order to have housing for all. NCIL believes that all housing should be designed and constructed to be accessible and used by all.

Housing affordability continues to be a serious challenge for many households with a person with a disability across the country. Despite years of near-stagnant funding in the face of increasing costs of providing housing assistance and the higher need for housing assistance, the Trump Administration reportedly is planning a very large reduction to the Federal budget over the next 10 years, mostly impacting domestic programs such as housing. Even the House Budget Committee plan, approved on March 16, 2016, would cut programs for low- and moderate-income people by about $3.7 trillion over the next decade. Although it went nowhere, it could be an indication of the direction that Congress may take in the upcoming months. Those potential cuts would reverse a long tradition of bipartisan support in Congress for housing programs.

  • NCIL opposes cuts to housing and other domestic programs designed to assist low to moderate-income households, including those with disabilities.

It is a well-known fact that many communities oppose affordable housing construction, and impose regulations designed to increase the cost of housing construction, including larger lot sizes, larger home sizes, façade requirements, minimizing the eligible zoning areas for multi-family housing, and worst of all, sabotaging efforts by developers to provide affordable housing. All this despite the fact that many receive Federal funding that carries an obligation to fight segregation. Although segregation is largely based on racial discrimination, it impacts people with disabilities as well by reducing their housing choices. Some in Congress and in the Executive Branch, including HUD Secretary Carson, have made it known that they desire to block HUD from enforcing recently issued regulations relating to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.

  • NCIL opposes efforts to weaken or eliminate Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulations and enforcement.

At the time of writing, there have been two similar bills proposed in Congress that would prohibit HUD from using geospatial databases to analyze patterns of discrimination, as well as imposing a cumbersome process designed to make it impossible to have fair and strong standards to combat housing segregation.

  • NCIL opposes S. 103 and H.R. 482, the Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017

Systemic discrimination is not the only housing issue that people with disabilities encounter in communities. The National Fair Housing Alliance has reported that 55.1% of all fair housing complaints are disability-related! This is unacceptable for a group that already faces formidable barriers to finding housing. Increased funding is needed for HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program to improve the effectiveness of fair housing enforcement, education, and outreach.

  • NCIL supports H.R. 149, the Housing Fairness Act of 2017

Reducing housing discrimination, both systemic and individual, is only a small part of the picture. There simply isn’t enough accessible, affordable, healthy / nontoxic, decent, safe, and integrated housing available for everyone who needs it. A large part of the reason is because our nation’s housing assistance is poorly designed. Each year, 75% of almost $200 billion in housing assistance dollars spent by the Federal government is used toward homeownership subsidies. The largest housing subsidy is the home mortgage interest deduction, which is used by homeowners who can benefit from itemized deductions on their taxes. Although homeowners at different income levels can take advantage of the deduction, half of all homeowners do not benefit. Those with pricey homes use bigger deductions. Frustratingly, homeowners with incomes over $100,000 receive eight out of every ten dollars for mortgage interest deductions, which is more assistance than low-income households receive from HUD! In short, those who need the assistance the least receive the most, making this a very ineffective program.

A proposed reform would provide a nonrefundable tax credit for homeowners and cap the amount of the tax write-off from $1 million to $500,000. Because it will be a tax credit, it will impact more homeowners and is a more effective policy while saving money. The reform would also fund the National Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund through the savings, building potentially 2.4 million new affordable housing units over the next decade! More homeowners can use the mortgage interest credit, AND more affordable units are built, with zero new cost to the Federal budget!

  • NCIL supports H.R. 948the Common Sense Housing Investment Act of 2017

But housing affordability is only part of the solution. There has to be greater accessibility as well, both for private and Federally-subsidized housing. Currently, there are no nation-wide accessibility standards for privately owned single-family (1 to 3 units) housing. This is a huge gap in accessibility standards that covers government offices, commercial buildings, and multi-family residences. Some communities and states have taken the lead in promoting home accessibility standards, commonly known as Visitability. Visitability is the idea that homes should have standards that include enough accessibility features for a guest with mobility disabilities to visit. These features will also make housing more accessible to persons with mobility disabilities, reduce unnecessary expenses for renovations, and will allow seniors to age in place, negating the need for costly institutionalization. The previous Congressional Sessions have seen a proposal which would require that newly constructed, Federally-assisted single family houses and town houses conform to Visitability standards. The basic design features are already in the International Codes Commission’s accessibility standards as a voluntary Type C unit.

  • NCIL supports the Eleanor Smith Inclusive Home Design Act (formerly H.R. 3260)

Many cities and regions suffer from a shortage of affordable and accessible housing. This is one of the few sources, and the primary source, of “new money” for housing that can be affordable with other subsidies. Many Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties are multi-family housing, which fall under the Fair Housing Act’s design and construction requirements. Even though there are no Section 504 obligations for greater accessibility, it has been beneficial for many people with disabilities. A bipartisan push to expand the LIHTC program has been underway, introduced as S. 3237 in the previous Session.

NCIL supports the program and the additional tax credits proposed, but NCIL believes that given the desperate need for accessible units, the LIHTC program has to do better on accessibility. A recent study in the Housing Policy Debate, “The Characteristics and Unmet Housing Program Needs of Disabled HUD-Assisted Households” by Casey Dawkins and Mark Miller, found that hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities were in housing that did not suit their needs. Startlingly, in public housing, seventy percent of residents did not receive a requested disability-related accommodation, and ninety percent of public housing residents with disabilities did not live in accessible units.

Since Congress has chosen to not significantly increase funding for subsidized housing, the only avenue left for increasing the number of accessible units is through the LIHTC program.

  • NCIL proposes that reforms to the LIHTC program should require that LIHTC properties follow a 15% requirement for accessible units in both single-family housing and multi-family housing, as well as 100% Visitability requirement for single-family housing.

As evidenced by the news from Flint, Michigan last year, lead contamination is very much an issue in many older neighborhoods and communities. Much of our current housing stock, particularly in older communities – rural, urban and suburban – contains unhealthy levels of lead-based paint, which has been linked to adverse health conditions in children. There are also lead-contaminated dust and soil in the neighborhood. When children become adults, the medical issues often continue, leading to breathing difficulties, lower IQ scores, impulsivity, seizures, reduced educational attainment, and loss of attention span, among other effects. NCIL believes that HUD and USDA Rural Housing need to do more to mitigate the impact of lead through providing additional resources and guidance on its removal. They should also identify the overall health and fiscal impacts. This was an issue that incoming HUD Secretary Carson brought up in his Senate confirmation hearing.

  • NCIL supports the reintroduction of S. 2631 and H.R. 4694 from the 114th Congress, the Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act of 2016.
  • NCIL also supports an increase in the Healthy Homes & Lead Hazard Control line item, which will lead to greater savings through healthier lifestyles.

The demand for housing that people with disabilities can actually use has far outgrown the available supply, and the shortage will only get worse with our nation’s aging population and the corresponding increase in the number of people with disabilities. Congress has to act to ensure that there will be an adequate supply of housing, both private and public.

Note: The Disability Integration Act (see Healthcare Section) includes language requiring each state to develop a statewide plan to increase the availability of affordable and accessible private and public housing stock for individuals with disabilities.

NCIL 2016 Policy Intern Oliver Stabbe uses sign language to address the crowd from the stage at the 2016 Annual ConferenceTransportation

In today’s society, economic competitiveness and success in the 21st century are dependent upon revolutionary ideas and solutions providing Americans, including individuals with disabilities, with accessible transportation systems that connect our cities, suburbs, rural areas, regions, and states. NCIL strongly supports and advocates for the integration of individuals with disabilities into society through universal (accessible) design in in both public and private transportation systems. In doing so, America honors the equal access intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from over 26 years moving forward. We cautiously hope that the Trump Administration will provide appropriate enforcement through the Department Of Justice.

Given the wide variety of pedestrian transportation options, pedestrian safety and rights-of-way must be designed to maximize accessibility to all community-based services, programs, activities, and employment opportunities that are available to the general public. Increased investment in the current transportation system alone won’t solve the problems that affect the lack of continuous, seamless, accessible, and affordable transportation services. Americans, especially individuals with disabilities, are negatively affected on a daily basis by the lack of accessible and affordable transportation. We must embrace innovative ideas that serve to enhance and maximize community integration, connectivity, and independence.

We believe that Congress must move toward a 21st century system that focuses on accountability and results while creating jobs, providing access to opportunity for all Americans (including individuals with disabilities), reducing carbon emissions and our dependence on foreign oil, and improving America’s economic competitiveness. This includes vehicles running on compressed natural gas (CNGs) and hybrid vehicles. NCIL supports public policy promoting American companies by providing incentives and subsidies toward the development of new universally designed, wheelchair accessible, energy efficient transportation vehicles. This encompasses transportation for air, land, and waterways.

In order to maximize continuity and efficiency of transportation, a coordinated plan is required that involves representatives from all impacted stakeholders, including the disability community.

Amtrak / High Speed Rail Systems: NCIL strongly supports high speed rail, including Amtrak and other regional high speed rail systems. However, they often continue to be out of compliance with ADA standards. These companies are not government entities, but receive federal and other governmental subsidies and as such must comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, as well as the ADA. In addition to subsidies, they have received technical assistance and directives in this area. NCIL believes that as we have passed the 26th anniversary of the ADA, no further excuses should be tolerated for delays on compliance. See H.R. 749, the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (new version to be reintroduced in 115th Congress) for more details on Amtrak reforms.

Livable communities: Safe and accessible rights-of-way are essential elements of community life. All pedestrians must be able to travel safely with accessible rights-of-way. It is of equal imperative to maximize accessibility and safety for pedestrians as it is for passengers. As states and communities increase their bicycle lanes and related supports, it is important the disability community is at the table. In addition, advocates should seek out local, county, state, and federal guidance, especially from local and state Bicycle-Pedestrian Coordinators where major changes are taking place. For more information concerning livable communities or ‘Complete Streets,’ see H.R. 2071, the Safe Streets Act of 2015 (new version to be reintroduced in 115th Congress).

Private transportation services: Legislation and regulations are needed to increase the number and availability of accessible vehicles within the private transportation industry, including taxis, limousines, shuttle service, car rentals, buses, trains, boats and more recently, Transportation Networking Companies (TNCs).

TNCs, also known as Ride Sharing, are both an interesting and challenging development that can increase transportation options, but also raise concerns. Because of the limits on transit and other transportation options utilized by the disability community (i.e., crossing county lines, lack of accessible vehicles, limits on non-traditional hours of services such as evenings, weekends, and holidays), TNCs can be important. They provide options for many people with disabilities and other communities. Unfortunately, TNC drivers have often discriminated against people with disabilities, not provided appropriate treatment of service animals (including trunk placement), and overcharged members of the disability community (i.e. price gouging). TNCs don’t offer accessible vehicles across the board and continue to fight accessibility requirements in many regions. This continues to leave people with a wide variety of disabilities and older Americans who use wheelchairs, scooters, and service animals without options. Some states are looking to contract with TNCs to reduce costs and in some cases, seek to address other disability services gaps. NCIL believes that with the right policies and practices, TNCs can be part of solving some of our community’s transportation needs. Some efforts between TNCs and the disability community are proving helpful, but great challenges remain. NCIL encourages advocates to be at the table on all levels when public policies and practices on TNCs are being discussed.

Transportation Funding: In December 2015, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The FAST Act is a five year agreement that will have funding for all modes of transportation with three years of guaranteed funding. President Trump has indicated an interest in increasing investment in transportation, but it’s not clear how much, which sectors, (public and / or private), or which modes.

While many transportation advocates wanted a longer term, more robust transportation funding package to address all modes with inflationary indexed increases, this was viewed as the best that could be done under the current political circumstances since it resulted in guaranteed additional funding for states. States generally receive close to half of their transportation funding through the Federal government.

NCIL supports full appropriation of Congressional funding agreed to in prior authorizations. We oppose cuts that impact people with disabilities, including those that support them living in the community.

The Transportation – Housing & Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bills are key to transportation funding, including Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars which are often blended with other government funds for local curb cuts and other accessible community projects.

Medicaid Transportation: Transportation is a covered benefit under state Medicaid plans that are approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid. Medicaid or Medical Assistance Transportation Programs are grouped under paratransit, but have different funding streams. With the continuing increased push for Medicaid Managed Care for both behavioral health and long term care, transportation is an issue that advocates will want to watch on state and county / regional levels. Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) should be reminded that they have responsibilities for transportation that must adhere to federal and state rules as well as their MCO contracts.

Airlines and Air Travel Issues

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization: In July 2016, Congress passed and President Obama signed a short term FAA Reauthorization extension that is now set to expire in September 2017. Two changes of interest are that the Federal DOT is to report back to Congress on findings regrading disability-related complaints and the air travel industry is to incorporate ‘best practice’ models to address disability related concerns by July 2017. FAA Reauthorization hearings have already started in this Congress. Airports and air travel have long been a challenge for people with disabilities. Everything in the airport up to the ticket counter is covered under the ADA, but everything beyond the ticket counter is under the FAA. NCIL supports FAA Reauthorization that addresses the concerns of the disability community, including policies and practices promoting cultural competency and inclusion of persons with disabilities similar to other passengers.

Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (bill number not yet assigned in 115th Congress): The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act requires domestic and foreign air carriers to ensure that all visually displayed programming available to flight passengers is accessible, including by making available open captioning, closed captioning, and audio description. It requires in addition that all individual video displays to flight passengers (of entertainment programming or information) that are operated primarily by use of touchscreens or other contact-sensitive controls include a mechanism allowing persons with disabilities to operate such displays independently in accordance with standards the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board shall establish. This legislation makes certain penalties under the ADA available to persons aggrieved by an air carrier’s failure to comply with this Act.

Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel: NCIL is pleased to see that the Air Carrier Access Act might cover kiosks owned by airports in addition to those owned by carriers under prior proposed rules by DOT. However, this proposal should include an explanation that public airports otherwise covered by the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act are still accountable under those laws, which may be enforced by private parties.

NCIL supports many of the DOT’s substantive accessibility proposals for both websites and kiosks. We agree that the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA, is the appropriate technical standard for websites. However, we strongly believe that it must be paired with a performance standard to maximize accessibility and usability. Technical standards alone will not ensure usability. NCIL recommends adding a performance standard that will guarantee that individuals with disabilities have the same access and website experience as users without disabilities and substantially similar ease of use. Mandates for accessibility of websites and kiosks are long overdue. Simultaneously, DOT must not make the same mistake by neglecting to include mobile devices and apps. It is imperative that we ensure access to the most advanced and accessible communication technologies.

Finally, NCIL continues to work with other national advocates on DOT-OST-2015-0246, also known as a “Reg Neg” and other issues noted in this section addressing accommodations for air travelers with disabilities.

Transportation Legislative Watch List

NCIL supports the following legislation and policy:

  • FAA Reauthorization legislation that includes addressing the issues addressed here related to air travel for the disability community
  • Public Policy Change: Increase weight levels on transit lifts to 1000 pounds
  • Public Policy around driverless cars
  • R. 1448 – Transit Accessibility Innovation Act of 2015
  • R. 749 – Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015
  • R. 2071 – Safe Streets Act of 2015
  • Allowing Local Control of Federal Transit Funds Act
  • Public policy supporting ADA compliance with vehicles for water travel

NCIL also encourages its members to be active on all levels in addressing transportation concerns, particularly since most venues are utilizing some federal dollars: Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), Rural Transit Planning Organizations (RTPOs), county / local transit, airport, state Department of Transportation (DOT) boards and other boards where transportation issues often don’t include representatives from the disability community.

Updated: March 23, 2017.