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On Proposed Changes in NYC’s Human Rights Law Addressed in Int. 417

Testimony before the NYC Council Committee on General Welfare

Oct. 16, 2003

Good morning. My name is Alexander Wood, and I am executive director of the Disabilities Network of NYC. DNNYC is a 2 year-old non-partisan, New York-based organization that promotes full participation of New Yorkers with disabilities through involvement in the public policy-making process and community education.

Although there are four issues before this committee today, I will focus my remarks on the proposed Int. 417, which while seeking to make NYC eligible for reimbursement by the federal government when it handles housing discrimination cases, would lead in its current form to rollbacks in the rights of tenants with disabilities, and this must be avoided.

As it stands, Int. 417, if passed and made a Local Law, will legislate that landlords are no longer responsible for paying for and can deny tenants with disabilities the right to make modifications to the interior of the apartments in which they reside in order to make them accessible unless they sign an agreement that they will pay for any adaptations and then restore the apartment to its original condition when they leave.

In a society where 70% of people with disabilities of working age are unemployed regardless how well the economy is doing, and in which the majority of individuals with disabilities live on fixed incomes and have few financial resources, such a change in the law would doubtless lead to the opposite of what is needed in NYC, as it would force people with disabilities out of the housing market because they will not be able to afford to live independently in the community, and will therefore force them into nursing homes (at greater cost to the government), where they will be segregated from mainstream society and warehoused.

The opposite should happen in an open, compassionate, and civilized city: we should all accept responsibility and acknowledge that people with disabilities are part of the social fabric, and instead of seeing a neighbor with a disability as a liability and a financial burden, we should plan for a future in which the built environment is designed to be barrier-free. The result would be that people with disabilities would be more fully integrated into the lives of our communities and be active participants and add to the diversity that we all celebrate in the multi-cultural mix that is NYC.

A proposed substitute to Int. 417 exists, and should be considered by this committee. It has been drafted by Craig Gurian of the Anti-Discrimination Law Center of Metro New York, and it remedies all the regressive portions of Int. 417. I am sure you know where to find it, but in case you don’t, it is on the internet at www.antibiaslaw.com.

I urge the committee to consider amendments to this proposed legislation that would avoid weakening the protections of tenants with disabilities and seniors in NYC.

Thank you.

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