In the late 1950’s, Connecticut recognized the need for decent, safe and sanitary housing for low-income elderly individuals and established a program to create subsidized rental housing for the elderly in 1958. Under the program, which parallels federal public housing programs, state grants or loans are provided to a variety of entities – local housing authorities as well as municipal, nonprofit, and for-profit developers- to construct and operate units that can be rented to eligible tenants at below market rates. Construction of state housing developments for elderly persons began in 1959. At that time, the law defined an elderly person of low income as one aged 65 or older who lacked the income necessary to live in decent, safe and sanitary housing. (In 1963, the age threshold changed to age 62 where it remains today.)
Three years later, in 1961, the legislature revised the definition of elderly persons to include “persons who have been certified by the social security board as being totally disabled under the federal social security act.” It is important to note that a review of the legislative record reveals no discussion about this change, including any controversy or opposition to the inclusion of the totally disabled to the definition of elderly persons. This means that no one presented public testimony at the time and the legislation passed with no oppositions or challenges. The statutory language was broadened in 1991 to include disability certification by “any other federal board or agency”; presumably the Veterans Administration.
Fair housing legislation further limits all Housing Authorities to inquire or screen for types of disabilities. In administering public housing programs, housing agencies must comply with both federal and state prohibitions against discriminatory practices. Connecticut law related to eligibility for state-funded elderly housing projects has included both elderly and non-elderly disabled for quite some time. Thus, on its face, Connecticut law does not permit discrimination against persons in either group in housing. State Law: The state Discriminatory Practices Act prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing similar to federal law. Discrimination in the sale or rental of housing is prohibited on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, handicap, age or lawful source of income. The law specifies a number of various discriminatory activities that are prohibited, including but not limited to: falsely representing that certain housing is not available; attempting to restrict the housing choices of a buyer or renter; imposing different terms and conditions for the sale or rental of housing; and refusing to allow reasonable modifications to accommodate a disability.
Federal antidiscrimination laws, discussed earlier, prohibit housing authorities from inquiring about the nature or extent of a person’s disability or about diagnosis or details of treatment. To verify that an applicant meets the statutory definition, a housing authority may confirm an individual’s age and whether the applicant receives either Social Security disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Receipt of such income is all the verification needed that an individual qualifies as a person with a disability. Antidiscrimination laws also prohibit housing authorities from applying different or stricter screening standards to applicants with disabilities than it applies to other applicants. Questions and information requested during admissions screening must be based upon an applicants’ abilities to meet the demands of tenancy and satisfy eligibility requirements. Applicant evaluations must be made on individual behavior history and not on assumed behavior or unfounded perceptions. According to federal law, the application process cannot solicit information about the nature or severity of an applicant’s disabilities. The law prohibits inquiries regarding an applicant’s health or ability to live independently. Applicants cannot be asked to prove they are capable of independent living and cannot be required to provide confidential medical records to support claims they can live independently. To screen tenants, the Seymour Housing Authority asks for information such as the applicant’s income, the number of people who need accommodation, references from past landlords, work history if applicable, a credit report to determine the applicant’s history of meeting financial obligations, and a past criminal history to determine involvement in disruptive or criminal activity.
Some residents and family members contend that they live in fear of the young disabled. While incidents that occur from time to time as a result of nuisance behavior either linked to a disability or possible substance abuse, the Leases that the Seymour Housing uses include provisions of State Eviction Laws including eviction for acts or behavior consisting of assaulting the landlord or other tenants, using the premises for gambling, prostitution, or to sell drugs. These are all considered grounds for eviction. A tenant cannot correct or cure an eviction based on illegal conduct or serious nuisance behavior. Unfortunately, residents have to accurately report such behavior to the Seymour Housing Authority and must consider being available to testify as to what they witnessed in the court eviction action. Conflicts among non-elderly disabled and elderly people living in the same state public housing projects have been cited as a problem for years in Connecticut. What is not clear is the extent and pervasiveness of the problem as concerns are based largely on anecdotal accounts. A few highly publicized incidents have raised concern in a least a few housing authorities.
Advocates for the disabled generally agree conflicts exist but don’t view the problem as widespread and argue that mixed housing can work given adequate support services. Some point out that in some communities elderly and non-elderly disabled residents co-exist successfully and provide support for each other. In addition, it is important to note that neither group is immune to mental illness, physical limitation, or substance abuse. Comprehensive data on the nature and extent of the problems between elderly and non-elderly disabled people residing in state-funded elderly housing projects do not exist. Even if incident data were available, the perceived concerns of elderly residents might not be adequately expressed by that information. Although this information is relative to State Elderly complexes, the same Fair Housing regulations apply to Federal Elderly Low Income Public Housing. The Seymour Housing Authority maintains a zero tolerance for nuisance behavior and has taken many actions to address such problems in the past. We do, however, rely on documentation from the residents as well as their support when needed to testify as to the behavior they have witnessed. Police documentation helps also. We will, and do enforce the Lease and the Landlord Tenant Laws when necessary.