Shelly Agarwala, Staten Island Legal Services, 718.233.6473
Nancy Goldhill, Staten Island Legal Services, 718.233.6490
July 19, 2012, Staten Island, NY--A federal judge in Brooklyn has ruled that a suit brought against the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) by a Staten Island resident who is blind may proceed despite efforts by NYCHA to have the matter dismissed. The plaintiff is arguing that by refusing to accommodate his disability, and by providing him repeatedly with written notices that he is unable to read, NYCHA is violating civil rights and disability laws.
Justin Williams sued NYCHA in 2010 for terminating his tenancy when he failed to respond to written notices. Mr. Williams had been a Section 8 tenant for 15 years, and NYCHA was aware that he was blind. Although NYCHA subsequently reinstated his Section 8 housing and promised to provide future notices on audio disks, it has failed to do so more than 18 months later.
NYCHA asked the Court to dismiss the case, arguing that it had addressed Mr. Williams’ claims and that the case was now moot. In denying NYCHA’s motion, District Judge Frederic Block noted that “[NYCHA]’s communications with [Williams] have continued to be in the form of conventional written documents, which Williams cannot read without assistance.” Judge Block also emphasized that “[t]he harm Williams faces is not loss of his subsidy, but [NYCHA]’s discriminatory treatment.”
Mr. Williams seeks an order that NYCHA cease its discriminatory practice by providing him with notices in an accessible format. Such an order would ensure that hundreds of others like Williams will not face homelessness because they cannot read notices. “I’m relieved that the court hasn’t let NYCHA get away with ignoring this problem,” said Mr. Williams. “I want NYCHA to provide me with documents I can understand.”
“We fail to understand why NYCHA is still unable to meet its legal obligation to Justin Williams and other blind and visually impaired tenants one and a half years after being sued. The law is clear, but apparently NYCHA will only act when the court demands that they do so,” says Shelly Agarwala from Staten Island Legal Services, which is representing Mr. Williams along with Patton Boggs LLP, and MFY Legal Services, Inc.