The Pursuit of Integrated Living: The Fair Housing Act as a Sword for Mentally Disabled Adults Residing in Group Homes

By Riley, Glenna | Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

The Pursuit of Integrated Living: The Fair Housing Act as a Sword for Mentally Disabled Adults Residing in Group Homes


Riley, Glenna, Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems


Today, many state-licensed group homes for mentally disabled adults have come to resemble their predecessor psychiatric institutions in that they segregate residents from the community at large. In 2010, a court found that private group homes in New York discriminated against the mentally disabled in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The court ordered the state to establish non-discriminatory housing alternatives where residents could live, and become part of, the community at large. This groundbreaking litigation has prompted similar efforts in other states. In addition to the ADA, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) also protects the mentally disabled from discrimination arising from segregated housing. This Note examines whether the FHA supports a discrimination claim on behalf of the mentally disabled residing in segregated group homes. The differences between the ADA and FHA approaches are analyzed in terms of standing, defenses, and remedies, in order to determine whether a FHA claim increases the chances of successful litigation, in turn furthering the underlying policy goal of ending discrimination in housing.

I. INTRODUCTION

During the deinstitutionalization movement, which began in 1955, the public sector developed community-based housing for the mentally disabled, rejecting policies segregating them in psychiatric institutions.1 Many states licensed private group homes in an effort to provide more humane treatment.2 Regrettably, the reality fell far short of the ideal, as state licensed group homes came to resemble their predecessor psychiatric institutions by segregating mentally disabled residents from the community at large.3 The result has been the denial of the opportunity for mentally disabled residents to interact with non-disabled individuals.4

The public has become increasingly aware that private group homes have failed to achieve the goal of providing true community-based living.5 Recently, an advocacy organization for the mentally disabled challenged a New York State policy in Disability Advocates ?. Paterson.6 The district court held that the state's policy of licensing private group homes discriminated against the mentally disabled, in violation of the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act.7 The court ordered New York to end discrimination in its housing policies regarding mentally disabled adults by ensuring that adult home residents are provided the opportunity to live in a more integrated setting.8

Other disability advocates are attempting to replicate this result in states where private facilities continue to receive the support of government policies.9 Since these cases are in the initial stages of litigation, there is no telling how they will play out.10 The underlying policy goal of litigation patterned after the successful Disability Advocates suit is to promote integrated housing alternatives for mentally disabled individuals.11 This Note refers to such a legal proceeding that seeks to advance this goal as a "Paterson case."12

Although Disability Advocates was brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA) also prohibits housing discrimination against the disabled by forbidding practices that produce or sustain segregated housing; thus, plaintiffs may also bring FHA claims against those who discriminate.13 The ADA provides that "no qualified individual with a disability shall ... be subjected to discrimination" by a public entity.14 In contrast, the FHA makes it illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing on the basis of disability.15 Both laws operate to protect disabled individuals from segregated living situations.16 If a Paterson claim under the FHA is viable, it could augment a claim under the ADA in future litigation. Litigators seeking to bring a Paterson case could bring suit under both statutes, thus strengthening their chances of success and doubling the potential for recovery. …

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