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Disability Rights and Fair Housing:
Eileen Feldman responds to City of Somerville and SCC. November 2006.
In fall, 2006, the City of Somerville contacted then-Disability Commission Chair Eileen Feldman regarding the Community Housing Development Organization's (CDHO) wish to request exemption from accessibility requirements for a substantial rehabilitation of a 6-unit development at 109 Gilman Street. They asked her to weigh in on supporting this request for an examption.
Instead, Eileen Feldman urged the City of Somerville and the Somerville Community Corporation to ensure maximum accessibility and to make the common areas and at least one of the 2 first-floor apartments accessible to current and future tenants of this HOME-funded project. In response, SCC informed Ms. Feldman that they would not be following this guidance, because, "it would be an administrative as well as a financial burden" to change their plans at this time.
(There were 2 alternate architectural plans drawn up to ensure that at least one unit would be accessible, as well as the common areas of this development. The extra cost for construction for one plan was $17,000; and other costed approximately double that.)
Eileen Feldman then responded to SCC's claims with this pro bono document, Response and Guidance to Somerville Department of Housing, written to the City of Somerville's Community Development office as well as the Somerville Community Corporation. She exhorted SCC and the City of Somerville to proactively address the numerous impediments to fair housing for people with disabilities in Somerville.
After receiving this document, SCC admitted that they could no longer argue that there was an administrative burden to creating at least one accessible unit, because of HUD's guidance regarding the need to plan for accessibility at the acquisition stage of developing such a project.