New Hampshire Legal Assistance

Helping to balance the scales of justice for everyone since 1971.

NHLA settles discrimination claim by Deaf resident against Manchester Housing

The Fair Housing Project of New Hampshire Legal Assistance recently entered into a Conciliation Agreement with Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority on behalf of a Deaf resident who complained that his health, safety and well-being were profoundly damaged by discriminatory practices at MHRA. The discrimination included MHRA’s failure to provide American Sign Language interpreters or adaptive intercom systems, fire alarms and smoke detectors.

NHLA’s client, Matthew*, is a young Deaf man who moved into housing operated by MHRA in May 2014. During his application process, he faced discriminatory practices which continued into his tenancy. Initially, he tried advocating for himself but sought help from NHLA in March 2015.

“Other Deaf people came to me and said the same thing had happened to them,” Matthew said. “I decided I wasn’t speaking for just myself but for others who live here, too. It was time for somebody to stand up for them, as well.”

The agreement was conciliated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. This is the second complaint alleging discrimination by MHRA staff against Deaf and hard-of-hearing residents that NHLA has filed in five years, said Fair Housing Project Director Christine Wellington.

“Every tenant is entitled to equal access to programs and services, to equal treatment and to use and enjoy his apartment fully,” Wellington said. “Since he moved in, our client was repeatedly treated differently, treated as if he was ‘less than’ other tenants. I’m so proud of him for standing up for himself and others facing discrimination. I also appreciate MHRA’s willingness to come to a fair resolution and address the concerns we raised on his behalf.”

NHLA’s complaint to HUD alleged that MHRA violated the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Fair Housing Project at NHLA is funded in part by HUD.

Prior to moving in, Matthew had asked that the apartment be modified for his needs and safety. The fire safety system, doorbell and intercom system in his apartment all lacked adequate accommodation for a person who cannot hear. Matthew also consistently requested an ASL interpreter attend his meetings with MHRA staff, but staff only provided interpretation services once, forcing him to attempt to lip read and rely on written notes.

“It would lead to insomnia, to being physically sick with anxiety. My psychological and physical health deteriorated after a while,” he said.

Among other things, the agreement calls for financial remuneration and that MHRA establish a formal policy for filing and responding to all requests for reasonable accommodations, and provide training for all management and staff on services for Deaf and hard-of-hearing residents. MHRA is also required to provide certified ASL interpreters.

For Matthew, the agreement “means no more of this negotiating for every little request, no more begging and pleading for our rights,” he said. “And it wasn’t just for Deaf people. It was for senior citizens, anyone that has a disability that needs accommodations. I know that people were afraid, but somebody had to stand up, and I was willing to do it.”

*This client’s name has been changed at his request.

About New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA)

New Hampshire Legal Assistance is a state-wide non-profit law firm providing civil legal services to low-income and elderly New Hampshire residents who cannot afford a lawyer. Typical clients are victims of domestic violence seeking safety from abuse, veterans and other people with disabilities trying to access their benefits, and people like Matthew who have faced discriminatory housing policies and practices. NHLA maintains offices in Berlin, Claremont, Concord, Manchester and Portsmouth.

The work of the Fair Housing Project at New Hampshire Legal Assistance is made possible by a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP). Fair Housing organizations and other non-profits that receive funding through the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) assist people who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination.

About the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

HUD's mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business.

The mission of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is to eliminate housing discrimination, promote economic opportunity, and achieve diverse, inclusive communities by leading the nation in the enforcement, administration, development, and public understanding of federal fair housing policies and laws.

FHEO protects people from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and familial status. Persons who believe they are victims of housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 800-827-5005 or online at HUD.gov

Click here to view a redacted copy of the agreement conciliated by HUD in this case.

For more information:
Sarah Palermo, NHLA communications manager
603-369-6650 or spalermo@nhla.org