Donna Anderson
May 13, 2013

Clearly indicating that the Department of Housing and Urban Development has too much free time on its hands, an Arizona facility for the deaf or hearing impaired is being charged with discrimination because only 6 of the complex’s 75 units have been rented to people who can hear.

Apache ASL Trails, located in Tempe, Ariz., was specially designed by a deaf architect for residents who are deaf or hearing impaired. The apartments are equipped with flashing lights to let residents know the phone is ringing or someone’s at the door, and specialized loud speakers that can deliver messages directly to the resident’s hearing aid. Most important, the staff members all speak American Sign Language, which is the reason for the “ASL” in the facility’s name.

Of the 75 apartments in the building, all but six have been rented to residents who are either deaf or hearing impaired. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to meet HUD’s requirements.

John Trasviña, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said in a statement that “federal law prohibits facilities that receive HUD funds from providing separate or different housing for one group of individuals with disabilities because this practice denies or limits access to housing for other individuals based on the types of disabilities they have.”

The developer, Michael Trailor, and Erich Schwenker of Cardinal Capital Management said the units were advertised in publications that targeted deaf people, and in Arizona newspapers and local magazines.

“Our intention has never been to exclude, but to make sure the units are utilized to the fullest extent possible, as the law requires,” Mr. Schwenker said.

A portion of the funding for Apache ALS Trails came from the Arizona Department of Housing, which reports to HUD. HUD discovered the alleged discrimination while conducting a standard audit.

There have been no consumer or tenant complaints against Apache ALS Trails. In fact, residents have formed a close-knit community, which is exactly what the developer intended.

“A lot of the people who live here, we share common language; we’re able to socialize,” Mary Susan Case, 72, who was born deaf to a hearing family, said through an interpreter. “I’m not lonely anymore.”

Now, HUD wants to limit the number of units that can be tagged for deaf or hearing impaired residents to 75 percent and increase the non-deaf population. Arizona officials fear that non-compliance would result in loss of funding for other similar projects.

After countless hours of legal wrangling on both sides, a representative of HUD said the agency has decided to give the state and the developer some time to “submit evidence demonstrating the housing needs of the deaf population to justify the use of federal money in the project.”

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