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Drafting and Introduction of the Original ADA Bill - Part 10

Fair Housing Amendments Act Legislation

The first recommendation in the section on “Housing” in Toward Independence called for a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability as broad as that applicable to race, color, religion, sex, and national origin under the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968), either by amending Title VIII or by separate legislation. The report noted that in 1983 President Reagan had called for expansion of Fair Housing legislation to protect people with disabilities. The Council’s recommendation went on to indicate that a disability nondiscrimination measure should require developers, landlords, and real estate management companies to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, and require compliance with full accessibility standards. Moreover, the ADA proposal in Toward Independence explicitly addressed discrimination on the basis of disability by “all sellers, landlords, and other providers of covered by Title VIII.” And accordingly I had included housing in the areas covered in my still hush-hush ADA draft.

On March 17, 1987, Pat Wright of DREDF and Jean McGuire, Executive Director of the Joint Council on AIDS and chairperson of the Housing Task Force of the Consortium for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities (CCDD), had come to NCD offices to meet with Lex and me to discuss the Council’s stance on Fair Housing legislation. They had been working with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) on the Fair Housing Amendments Act bills introduced in Congress on February 19, 1987 (H.R. 1158 & S. 558) that, among other things, would add “handicapped” persons to the categories of persons protected from discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. An earlier version of such a bill (H.R. 5200) had been passed by the House by a wide margin on June 12, 1980, but had failed to obtain the 60 percent of votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Similar bills had floundered in subsequent Congresses. Pat and Jean indicated that they had been working with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights on the pending bills and believed there was a fair chance of getting them passed. They wanted to know if the National Council would endorse these bills.

At Lex’s direction, I described the Council’s position on housing issues set out in the Toward Independence recommendations, and told them that I believed that the Council would support the pending legislation so long as it had a workable definition of disability (“handicap”), mandated reasonable accommodations, and proscribed architectural and communications barriers. Pat and Jean seemed pleased by our response. They informed us of an innovative element of the bills under consideration – that they would make it unlawful not only to discriminate against a person because of that person’s disability, but also to discriminate against someone because the person “associated with” a person with a disability. We expressed our approval of this approach as a helpful advance in the law.

Fair housing negotiations in the Congress made some progress over the next couple of months, and on June 17, 1987, Pat and Jean visited Lex and me at NCD again. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Arlen Specter (R (at the time)-Penn.) had developed a substitute amendment to the Senate bill. In early June, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Judiciary Committee was about to consider the Kennedy/Specter substitute. Among a variety of other provisions, the substitute bill included a new one that would require accessibility in newly constructed multifamily rental housing. LCCR was strongly supporting the substitute and its architectural accessibility requirement. Jean and Pat asked for the Council’s help in endorsing the substitute. We assured them that we would do what we could to help.

After Jean and Pat left, Lex contacted Chairperson Parrino and pointed out how the proposed amendment would further the housing policies of the Council in Toward Independence. She straightaway agreed to back the substitute. So it was that, within a week of our meeting with Pat and Jean, I penned a letter for Mrs. Parrino to Senator Paul Simon, Chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, in which she stated the Council’s support both for the addition of discrimination on the basis of disability to the types of discrimination prohibited under the Fair Housing Act and for the provisions that would impose an accessibility requirement on the construction of new multifamily housing units. With the support of the civil rights community, disability consumer organizations, the National Council on Disability, and many other organizations and individuals, on June 27, 1987, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution approved the Kennedy/Specter substitute version of S. 558 for consideration by the Judiciary Committee.

Continue to Part 11: Completing First Full Draft of ADA Bill and a Gameplan for Introduction