Neither Side Wins, Neither Side Loses In Pitched Battle for Accessible Apartments
By Joe Olvera ©, 2010
Both sides won and both sides lost in a pitched battle that pitted apartment builders versus the so-called ADA community (ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act). The argument in question is that the builders want to change an Ordinance that requires them to build and make at least five percent of their apartments accessible for people with disabilities. They want to change it to two percent.
The ADA community came out in force, many of them in wheelchairs, to demand that the city keep the ordinance as originally written ca. 1987, with the 5 percent requirement intact. Each side presented its case for either changing the ordinance, or for keeping it as written. City Council, however, didn’t give either group a complete victory, voting, 6-2 to lower the requirement to 3 percent.
There is one caveat, however, that a complete study be conducted that will determine exactly how many people in El Paso are disabled, and, therefore, determine how many accessible apartments need to be build. The study, which will go out for bids in an Request For Proposals, should be conducted in the next six months. Meanwhile, Rep. Emma Acosta, who made the motion to adopt the 3 percent rule, said the study must be completed as soon as possible, and must be made available in Spanish.
“We need to be fair to the ADA community, and we need to be fair to developers,” Acosta said. “That’s why I’m proposing a compromise between five percent and two percent. The data base that we asked both groups to create is suffering from lack of marketing. In essence, people who need accessible apartments don’t know where they are. The database has created a huge disconnect, and nothing is being done to correct it.”
The motion which was made and carried, is to rewrite the ordinance to reflect the three percent change, but, only temporarily. Once the study is finished, it will determine whether the percentage should be lowered, should stay where it is, or should be raised.
“I’m not satisfied with the results,” said Luis Enrique Chew, the executive director of VOLAR Center for Independent Living (CIL), the lead group in the skirmish. “We wanted to keep the five percent until the analysis is done. Then, we can determine if we need to raise it or if we need to lower it. I believe that lowering it is not an option.”
The VOLAR Center CIL, assists people with disabilities to become independent by becoming fully integrated into community life. “I’m worried that with council’s action today, there will soon be a shortage of apartments. It’s unfortunate that, during Fair Housing Month, we are weakening the code. I’m fearful of the future.”
Builders like Tom Bohannon, however, are worried that lowering the requirements to three percent will have a negative impact on his business. A Mr. Baca, who said he’s not a builder, but, does own apartments, said he had eight available units for people with disabilities, but, he could only rent one. “We did not get a single referral from people who need those accessible apartments,” Baca said. “We want to rent the units, but, where are the renters? This (battle) makes us sound nefarious.”
About 20 people signed in to speak to the issue, primarily from the ADA community. Lisa Turner, one of the supporters of ADA people, said that there are 410 apartments available for a population of 101,000 people with disabilities; Marc Salazar protested and castigated City Council angrily for what he considers unfair treatment of people with disabilities; Rep. Eddie Holguin, said that the issue is one of “social justice, one of fairness.”
The problem, most people agreed is that the apartments which are, allegedly, accessible and available, are not being marketed correctly. ”Not everyone has a computer, or even access to the Internet,” said one speaker. Not only that, but, many people in the ADA community speak only Spanish. Are there efforts to reach out to them?” The issue will be revisited, once the complete study and analysis is completed.