Access Living Sues Chicago for Failing to Ensure Assisted Housing is Accessible to People with Disabilities

Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, a Center for Independent Living (CIL) and advocate for people with disabilities, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleging that the City of Chicago has funded and developed tens of thousands of affordable rental homes without ensuring a sufficient number are accessible to people with disabilities as required by federal law.

The lawsuit addresses Chicago’s Affordable Rental Housing Program and asserts that since 1988 several city agencies failed to comply with the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

Since 2004, Access Living has received approximately 50,000 inquiries from people searching for accessible, affordable housing. Typical stories include: a woman with a mobility impairment who had to climb 25 stairs because she could not afford to live elsewhere; a man forced to live in a nursing home for decades because he could not find affordable housing with wide enough doors for his wheelchair; a woman who uses a wheelchair forced to call the fire department when she needed to leave her second floor home; and a woman with Lupus who was homeless and finally had to move into an apartment with stairs in order to retain her voucher. Many of Access Living’s clients are low income and dependent on rental vouchers.

In 2016, Access Living began an investigation to determine whether Chicago’s Affordable Rental Housing Program was complying with the accessibility requirements of the ADA, Section 504, and the FHA. It revealed that many developments were not constructed to allow individuals who use wheelchairs to enter and/or use buildings, rooms, and amenities. Violations include:

  • Main entrances inaccessible to an individual in a wheelchair because of steps or other barriers;
  • Doors into and in units that are too narrow for wheelchairs;
  • Inaccessible bathroom sinks or faucets; and
  • Very few units with roll-in showers.

Access Living also asserts that Chicago cannot provide a complete list of affordable homes that receive financial assistance, identify all wheelchair-accessible or sensory-accessible homes in the program, or take steps to ensure that accessible homes that do exist in the program are inhabited by people with disabilities who need those accessibility features.

The suit asks the court to:

  • Compel the City to survey each home and common area in the Affordable Rental Housing Program.
  • Bring each home and common area into full compliance with the ADA, Fair Housing Act, and Section 504.
  • Put in place policies and practices to provide meaningful access to the program for people with disabilities.
  • Enforce compliance by building owners and managers.

A ruling could impact more than 50,000 rental homes in more than 650 developments and require Chicago to take steps to ensure that future developments comply with federal accessibility requirements.

Relman Dane & Colfax filed the lawsuit on behalf of Access Living. In 2016 the firm settled a case against the City of Los Angeles on behalf of nonprofit disability and fair housing advocacy groups. Pursuant to that settlement, Los Angeles agreed to bring at least 4,000 affordable apartment units into compliance with the heightened accessibility requirements of the ADA and Section 504, at an estimated cost of more than $200 million (see Memo, 9/6/16).

The legal complaint is available at: