Liberty Resources v. Philadelphia Housing, Civil Action No. 03-4455.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
Writing for the CourtAnita B. Brody
Citation528 F.Supp.2d 553
PartiesLIBERTY RESOURCES, INC., Plaintiff, v. PHILADELPHIA HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 03-4455.
Decision Date18 December 2007
528 F.Supp.2d 553
LIBERTY RESOURCES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
PHILADELPHIA HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant.
Civil Action No. 03-4455.
United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania.
December 18, 2007.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Robert W. Meek, Philadelphia, PA, for Plaintiff.

Abbe F. Fletman, Flaster/Greenburg PC, Alan C. Kessler, Barry M. Klayman, Brian P. Flaherty, Scott A. Caulfield, Wolf Block Schorr and Solis-Cohen LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ANITA B. BRODY, District Judge.


I. INTRODUCTION

Liberty Resources, Inc. (LRI), a federally-funded interest group for persons with disabilities, brought this suit against the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) claiming PHA's Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP or alternatively HCV Program) discriminates against mobility disabled program participants in violation

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of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (RA), 29 U.S.C. § 794, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12132, and various implementing regulations promulgated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Both parties moved for summary judgment. Defendant alleges that Plaintiff does not have standing to sue and that even if Plaintiff had standing the case should be dismissed because no violation of the ADA or RA exists. The well-developed record shows that PHA has not failed to provide mobility disabled people with meaningful access to the benefits of the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Therefore, Defendant has not violated the ADA or RA.

PHA is one of many housing authorities throughout the country that administers a Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8 Housing. The HCV Program provides qualified low-income families vouchers to subsidize the rental of privately-owned units in the housing market. Unfortunately, Philadelphia has a significant shortage of handicapped accessible housing in the private marketplace. As explained by PHA, "there are far more people with physical disabilities or mobility impairments seeking housing than there are rental properties equipped to accommodate them." January 16, 2004 PHA Letter to HCVP-Participating Landlords.

This problem is not unique to Philadelphia. Housing authorities in two other cities facing similar accessible unit shortages, Chicago and Baltimore, have aggressively tackled the problem by funding accessibility modifications to privately-owned units rented by Section 8 participants1 and by providing individualized search assistance to disabled Section 8 program participants.2 PHA has been encouraged to undertake similar initiatives. HUD issued a notice stating that housing authorities should offer Section & participants "specialized housing search assistance to families with a disabled person to locate accessible units if requested." U.S. Dep't of Housing and Urban Dev., Notice PIH 2005-5(HA) at 3 (Feb. 1, 2005) (explaining and providing guidance to implement President Bush's New Freedom Initiative and Executive Order 13217). A subsequent HUD notice mentioned unit modification for accessibility purposes as a type of development activity related to Section 8 tenant-based rental assistance. U.S. Dep't of Housing and Urban Dev., Notice PIH 2006-5(HA) at 4 (Jan. 13, 2006) (implementing the HCVP funding provisions of the 2006 HUD Appropriations Act).

The plaintiff, LRI has proposed several modifications to PHA's HCV Program that include funding accessibility modifications to rented units, providing individualized search assistance, and increasing rents

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paid for accessible housing. Despite HUD's suggestions and directions, and PHA's substantial discretion to modify its programs, PHA has refused to make several modifications to the HCV Program proposed by LRI.

Prior to this lawsuit, staff in LRI's Housing Advocacy Department spoke with PHA officials privately and publicly about problems relating to the lack of accessible housing for disabled voucher holders. Since instituting this lawsuit, both sides have engaged in considerable discovery, and at my urging, have undergone negotiations to reach a settlement before a magistrate judge. Unfortunately, these efforts have failed to produce an accord.

The record contains several examples where PHA's efforts to assist disabled voucher holders in renting accessible units has been less than ideal. The question before me, however, is whether PHA's meager efforts, to date, are so legally insufficient that PHA has denied disabled people meaningful access to program benefits or discriminated against them in the HCV Program. I find that the core services that HCVP provides are consistent with the statutory mandates of the RA and ADA and are available to all program participants. Furthermore, there is no statutory or regulatory requirement that HCVP expand these core services. Therefore, the HCV Program satisfies the minimal mandates of the ADA and RA. I grant summary judgment to PHA. I note however, that If PHA fails to accommodate mobility disabled people in a manner at least consistent with the current practices, it exposes itself to liability in the future. Additionally, as an aside, I hope that PHA will ultimately meet the challenges of providing accessible housing to mobility disabled people in a similar fashion to the work done in Baltimore and Chicago.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. The Parties

Liberty Resources, Inc. is a designated "center for independent living" (CIL) created under federal law, 29 U.S.C. § 796f-4. As a CIL, federal statute and regulations require that LRI assists people with significant disabilities to advocate for themselves in order to achieve equal access to society, which includes access to publicly and privately funded programs, activities, and services. Specifically, federal statute mandates that LRI "shall provide independent living core services."3 29 U.S.C. § 796f-4(b)(5). LRI employs approximately 140 people. Approximately 2% of LRI's $29 million annual budget is derived from federal funding. Federal law requires that

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the majority of board directors and staff of each Center for Independent Living be comprised of their constituency, which is people with disabilities. 29 U.S.C. §§ 796f-4(c)(2), 796f-4(c)(6). Of LRI's sixteen board members, eleven are individuals with mobility disabilities. Mobility-disabled individuals also make up a majority of three key LRI committees: the Housing Committee, the Strategic Planning Committee, and the Advocacy Committee.

Philadelphia Housing Authority is a public housing authority that receives federal financial assistance from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. PHA administers two voucher programs, one project-based and another tenant-based. The project-based voucher program provides low income people with subsidized housing owned by either PHA or private developers who manage the properties under contract with PHA. The tenant-based Housing Choice Voucher Program gives vouchers to low income households to subsidize the rental of units privately-owned by landlords who voluntarily participate in the program. Unlike project-based voucher holders, HCVP voucher holders have the flexibility to choose from units available for rent throughout the private housing market.

B. The Housing Choice Voucher Program

In 2005, approximately 17,000 individuals received PHA-issued HCVP vouchers and rented approximately 16,700 units. Approximately 6,500 individuals were on a waiting list to receive vouchers.

The HCV Program was established pursuant to Section 8 of the United States Housing Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1437. "In the Housing Act, Congress declared that it is this Nation's policy to employ its funds to `remedy the unsafe housing conditions and the acute shortage of decent, safe and affordable dwellings for low income families,' and to vest responsibility, flexibility and accountability in the [Public Housing Authorities], the entities that administer the programs which provide federal housing assistance." Powell v. Hous. Auth. of the City of Pittsburgh, 571 Pa. 552, 812 A.2d 1201, 1203 (2002) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1437(a)(1)(A)).

Under its agreement with HUD, the Philadelphia Housing Authority is given substantial discretion over its spending and organization of the Housing Choice Voucher Program. HUD's agreement with PHA in regard to HCVP, states that "[u]nder this Program, the PHA may be authorized to determine ... [a]djustments to the payment standard; [t]ype and level of supportive services to be provided to tenants; and [p]rograms, services and terms available to landlords to insure availability of affordable quality units throughout the city of Philadelphia." HUD/PHA Moving to Work Demonstration Agreement, 11.4

PHA's process of voucher distribution and use, for both disabled and non-disabled HCVP voucher holders, is as follows:

. Eligible applicants,5 not already holding vouchers, are placed on a waiting list.

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. After reaching the top of the waiting list, an applicant must attend an Initial/Transfer Briefing Session conducted by PHA. At this briefing, PHA gives applicants a packet of information describing how the program works. At the end of the briefing, PHA issues a voucher to the applicant. These vouchers are good for sixty days.

. To facilitate the housing search, PHA distributes a Section $ Unit Availability Listing, which contains all currently available participating units, including all accessible units, known by PHA to accept vouchers. PHA maintains and regularly distributes this list. PHA also regularly holds housing fairs for the purpose of matching voucher holders with participating landlords. Other than these two services, PHA leaves voucher holders to rely upon other resources—such as newspapers, telephones, churches, the internet—to find units with landlords willing to accept an HCVP voucher.

. Once a voucher holder and landlord agree to...

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17 practice notes
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    ...that it cannot have standing. Hunt need not be read so strictly. For instance, in Liberty Res., Inc. v. Philadelphia Hous . , Auth., 528 F.Supp.2d 553, 563 (E.D. Pa. 2007), the court held that "representational standing does not require that every individual in an organization, nor eve......
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    • February 17, 2017
    ...a program provides or denies disabled people meaningful access to its benefit." Liberty Res., Inc. v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth. , 528 F.Supp.2d 553, 566 (E.D. Pa. 2007).36 In reaching this conclusion, the Eleventh Circuit applied 29 C.F.R. § 35.150, a Title II regulation that states: &q......
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • March 21, 2013
    ...accommodations would be unduly burdensome or fundamentally alter the program." Liberty Res., Inc. v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth., 528 F. Supp. 2d 553, 565 (E.D. Pa. 2007) (citing Frederick L. v. Dep't of Public Welfare of Com. ofPage 39Pennsylvania, 364 F.3d 487, 492 n. 4 (3d Cir. 2004) (......
  • Houston v. Twp. of Randolph, Civ. No. 2:11–4810 (KM).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • March 21, 2013
    ...that the accommodations would be unduly burdensome or fundamentally alter the program.” Liberty Res., Inc. v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth., 528 F.Supp.2d 553, 565 (E.D.Pa.2007) (citing Frederick L. v. Dep't of Public Welfare of Com. of Pennsylvania, 364 F.3d 487, 492 n. 4 (3d Cir.2004) (constru......
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17 cases
  • Ball v. Kasich, Case No. 2:16–cv–00282
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • March 23, 2017
    ...that it cannot have standing. Hunt need not be read so strictly. For instance, in Liberty Res., Inc. v. Philadelphia Hous . , Auth., 528 F.Supp.2d 553, 563 (E.D. Pa. 2007), the court held that "representational standing does not require that every individual in an organization, nor eve......
  • Todd v. Carstarphen, 1:16–cv–3729–WSD
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • February 17, 2017
    ...a program provides or denies disabled people meaningful access to its benefit." Liberty Res., Inc. v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth. , 528 F.Supp.2d 553, 566 (E.D. Pa. 2007).36 In reaching this conclusion, the Eleventh Circuit applied 29 C.F.R. § 35.150, a Title II regulation that states: &q......
  • Houston v. Twp. of Randolph, Civ. No. 2:11-4810 (KM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • March 21, 2013
    ...accommodations would be unduly burdensome or fundamentally alter the program." Liberty Res., Inc. v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth., 528 F. Supp. 2d 553, 565 (E.D. Pa. 2007) (citing Frederick L. v. Dep't of Public Welfare of Com. ofPage 39Pennsylvania, 364 F.3d 487, 492 n. 4 (3d Cir. 2004) (......
  • Houston v. Twp. of Randolph, Civ. No. 2:11–4810 (KM).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • March 21, 2013
    ...that the accommodations would be unduly burdensome or fundamentally alter the program.” Liberty Res., Inc. v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth., 528 F.Supp.2d 553, 565 (E.D.Pa.2007) (citing Frederick L. v. Dep't of Public Welfare of Com. of Pennsylvania, 364 F.3d 487, 492 n. 4 (3d Cir.2004) (constru......
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