Letter: Law Center continues to identify barriers to housing for families with disabilities

To the editor:

Native Americans have the highest rate of disability of any racial/ethnic group in the United States. Over 40 percent of households in Apache and Navajo counties have a household member with a disability. For Hopis with a disability and their families, access to housing is fundamental. Lack of access to housing impairs the ability of people with disabilities to achieve independence, fully participate in their communities, and reach their maximum potential.

The Native American Disability Law Center is a non-profit organization that works to protect the legal rights of Native Americans with disabilities in the Four Corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The Law Center also works to ensure that Native Americans with disabilities have access to justice and are treated equally in their communities and nations.

Over the last seven years, the Law Center has been working to identify the barriers to housing for families with disabilities. Our clients have told us that the most significant barriers to housing are the lack of information and the complex and cumbersome housing application process.

The Law Center is providing technical assistance to the Hopi Office of Special Needs and the Hopi Disability Advocacy Group on this issue. All three organizations are working to develop a collaborative relationship with the Hopi Tribal Housing Authority (HTHA) and the HTHA Board of Commissioners in addressing identified barriers in accessing housing and other concerns of persons with disabilities. These organizations presented information on those needs to the HTHA Board of Commissioners on Aug. 21. We presented our recommendations regarding HTHA's policy and procedures to increase access to housing for those with a disability, the need for public education and HTHA staff training related to disability needs and issues, and consideration of universal design in housing.

Failure to provide reasonable accommodation and access to housing services is a violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Therefore we submitted quite a number of suggested revisions to HTHA's policies and procedures in order to advance the rights of those with a disability for easier access to housing services, to ensure the availability of disability accommodated units and to ensure non-discrimination against those with a disability.

Two areas of concern are establishing policies and procedures to provide reasonable accommodation so that those persons with a disability can access housing services, and establishing grievance procedures for those denied housing services. Of equal importance is providing education to the public about their right to request accommodation and to grieve any such denial.

We wish to publically acknowledge HTHA's willingness to accept our presentation and we are hopeful that HTHA will address the concerns of persons with a disability. We would also invite persons with a disability and their family members to make their particular concerns known to HTHA, the Law Center, the Hopi Office of Special Needs and the Hopi Disability Advocacy Group. You may contact the Law Center at (800) 862-7271 or (505) 566-5880.

Debora Perkey

Farmington, N.M.

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