Senior housing group agrees to better accommodate disabled residents

A senior housing nonprofit that spans five Puget Sound counties has agreed to work with a Tacoma nonprofit to accommodate residents with disabilities, resolving a complaint filed with federal housing authorities.

Tacoma-based Fair Housing Center of Washington filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last fall against Seattle-based Senior Housing Assistance Group.

SHAG has 30 properties in Pierce, Thurston, King, Snohomish and Whatcom counties, and serves about 5,000 residents.

It is the largest provider of affordable senior housing in the state and more than 45 percent of its residents have a disability, according to its executive director, Jay Woolford.

In the months leading up to the complaint, the Fair Housing Center received more than two dozen calls about disabled residents having trouble requesting accommodations, said Lauren Walker, the center’s executive director..

Such accommodations can include a grab bar in a shower to prevent falls, or a reserved parking space close to the entrance of a residence or the housing complex.

The Fair Housing Center then sent testers to SHAG properties to see if potential residents with disabilities were treated differently than those who did not have a disability, Walker said.

“Reasonable accommodation requests weren’t even being considered,” Walker said, “and in a couple of instances, people were told that it wasn’t reasonable” to ask for a reserved parking spot.

Woolford said he was surprised when he heard of the allegations in February, but since has moved to come to an agreement with the Fair Housing Center.

“It was never any intent on our part to discriminate,” he said. “We try to accommodate people as best we can. … Had we been informed that this was going on we would’ve reacted vigorously because we are steadfast in our commitment to making housing available to people.”

Part of HUD’s process is similar to arbitration, during which both groups try to agree on a remedy.

In this case, SHAG will pay the Fair Housing Center to train its employees, and to send testers to its properties for two years, Walker said.

In addition, the nonprofit will pay the center for its attorneys’ fees and the two groups will work on a public service announcement.

Altogether the cost of the agreement is about $80,000, Walker said.

Walker said SHAG has been “extremely cooperative and positive since the very beginning, and they look forward to working with us to ensure that their staff know fair housing laws, and that residents are represented well.”

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports