Accessible Design in Public Housing: NYCHA Staff Training Program

Version 4.0 July 9, 2001

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Disability and the Environment

5. Management issues in public housing

There are several housing management issues related to disability.

First, there is a need to assess needs for accommodation on an individual basis. A good outreach and assessment process will insure that the specific needs of an individual are addressed when assigning a tenant to a specific project, building or apartment. The information from the assessment can be used to identify the most suitable dwelling unit taking the tenant's preferences into account. As indicated above, the individual tenant should know his needs best and each person is entitled to make his own choices about a place to live with the same degree of choice available to other tenants in the Authority. Whereas one individual who uses a wheelchair may desire a bathroom with a wheel-in shower, another may rather have a bathtub due to personal preferences for bathing or needs of other household members like small children. Only the tenant can make the such choices.

Second, management should be prepared to make small adjustments in a dwelling unit to accommodate special needs. An effort should be made to identify all the needs of a tenant before she moves into an apartment. Even after a tenant moves in, there may be small changes needed in the unit. For example, re-hanging a door to open out of a bathroom, adding a grab bar, adding a shower seat or lowering a shelf can make a significant difference for independent functioning. It cannot be expected that all the adjustments necessary will be identified prior to the move. The tenant may not be able to anticipate the impact of the differences between the new unit and her old one. Management should develop a pre-move and follow up process to insure that specific needs are met. Ideally, this should include a walkthrough and test of the bathroom and kitchen. This process can include a list of allowable changes that can be provided prior to the move and after the move.

Third, because of the nature of many disabilities, needs can change over time. Housing management should have a process for requesting, approving and implementing changes in the dwelling that are needed because of a progressively deteriorating condition or a further disability. When an individual's health prognosis would indicate a steady decline in function, it may be prudent to find a unit that is even more accessible than needed at the time of the move, thereby anticipating change in function. However, no one can be forced to accept a higher level of accessibility he thinks he needs, even if professional opinion suggests otherwise. All that managers can do is discuss the difficulties that a unit or building that could create in the future and let the individual make up his own mind.

Fourth, the rapid repair of conditions in a dwelling unit that occur through normal wear and tear could be much more critical for a tenant with a disability than for one without. A tenant without a disability can often make personal adjustments and accommodations more easily. Therefore, a process needs to be in place to deal with emergencies for tenants with disabilities very quickly when they threaten safety and health.

Finally, there may be specific accommodations needed by a particular tenant with regard to services provided in a building or site. This includes access to garbage receptacles, the manager's office, laundries and mailboxes. If  these facilities are not accessible for reasons allowable by the law and negotiated agreements, management may have to provide additional services like delivery of mail or collection of rent. This may be true even if physical accommodations have been made. For example, assigning a lower mailbox or adapting the handle of the box may not be sufficient to make it usable by some individuals with severe disabilities.