March 17, 2018
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Disabled Auburn woman claims discrimination in housing authority’s denial of 2-bedroom apartment voucher

By Christopher Williams, Sun Journal

AUBURN, Maine — A local woman with multiple disabilities complained to a state agency that Auburn Housing Authority wrongly denied her funding for a spare room she used for exercising.

Pamela Grant, who suffers from multiple physical and mental impairments, told the Maine Human Rights Commission that AHA declined her request for a two-bedroom Section 8 voucher at her apartment at Northern Avenue Heights where she lived since 2008, according to MHRC documents.

On June 11, AHA issued a notice that ended the practice of subsidizing a single-person household at the rate for a two-bedroom subsidy if the additional bedroom was used for exercise equipment.

Grant’s attorney, Patricia M. Ender, sought from AHA a “reasonable accommodation” for Grant’s multiple medical conditions.

The Authority denied her request. Grant claims the denial was a violation of the Maine Human Rights Act.

Barbara Lelli, an investigator at MHRC, concluded there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that AHA denied Grant reasonable accommodation and recommended “conciliation.”

The Commission is set to meet Monday to vote on the case.

Grant had included in her accommodation request a letter from her doctor. Grant needed to use a treadmill and a stationary bike daily “to prevent leg weakness and to maintain her ability to walk” due to weakness and pain in her lower extremities, her doctor wrote. “Please be advised that Ms. Grant has multiple medical illness issues which include chronic pain and neuropathy. She has a condition [affecting] both hips as well.”

Her doctor wrote that all of her exercise equipment won’t fit in a single room.

Grant included in her AHA request photos and a floor plan to help explain her need for the additional room.

In its response to Grant’s complaint, AHA said she had no basis for a claim because she didn’t seek an informal hearing within 14 days of the disputed decision about her subsidy and because she failed to exhaust local administrative remedies before filing a complaint with MHRC.

The local housing authority also said Grant surrendered her Section 8 voucher and subsidized apartment before the rent increase was due to take effect, rendering her complaint “moot and without legal basis.”

The Authority’s Reasonable Accommodation Committee that responds to reasonable accommodation requests met in mid-October to discuss Grant’s request. The committee discussed the availability of space in Grant’s apartment to use the equipment as well as the administrative plan for the Section 8 program, according to the investigator’s report.

Committee members felt that more information was needed and voted to deny Grant’s request and offer her an informal hearing to review AHA’s decision. At that hearing, Grant would have a chance to provide AHA with additional information, the report said.

In response to her request for a two-bedroom apartment voucher, a letter to Grant said, “This does not meet the required elements for a reasonable accommodation as the guidelines for determining voucher size states that for a two-bedroom, the minimum number of persons in the household needs to be two.”

The letter included three alternative suggestions: stay in the two-bedroom apartment and receive a voucher that would pay for a single bedroom unit, move, or seek an informal hearing to review the AHA’s decision.

The Authority argued it might have come up with a satisfactory alternative remedy had Grant decided to seek the informal review, but the AHA never had that opportunity because Grant didn’t ask for that review, AHA said.

Grant was served a notice by her landlord at the end of October that she violated the terms of her lease by “unnecessarily disturbing other tenants in the building.” The notice advised Grant to move out by Dec. 1. Grant moved out on Nov. 30.

If the board were to support the investigator’s recommendation, an out-of-court agreement is encouraged. If the two sides are unable to agree, the board would look to the legal department to recommend whether to take legal action before taking a final vote.

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