Letter to HUD Assistant Secretary Farias Urging Meeting on Proposed Revisions to Guidance on Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs

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VIA U.S. MAIL AND ELECTRONIC MAIL
 
July 12, 2018
 
Anna Maria Farias
Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street S.W.
Washington, DC 20410
 
Re: Meeting on Proposed Revisions to FHEO Notice 2013-01: Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs (Assistance Animal Guidance) 
 
Dear Assistant Secretary Farias, 
 
I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD) - an independent, nonpartisan federal agency charged with providing advice to the President, Congress and federal agencies on matters affecting the lives of people with disabilities  - to urge you to reschedule the cancelled meeting with national disability leaders of June 11, 2018, regarding FHEO’s revisions to its 2013 assistance animal guidance. A representative from NCD planned to attend the meeting to gain an understanding of FHEO’s concerns with the assistance animal guidance, the proposed revisions, and the concerns of the attending non-governmental disability organizations. We are happy to meet separately, as a sister federal agency, to learn more about those concerns but recommend FHEO meet with disability organizations as well.
 
As the nation’s disability policy advisor, NCD makes recommendations only after obtaining the viewpoints of stakeholders and understanding the current landscape. Access Living and the National Council on Independent Living shared their concerns about FHEO’s proposed revisions to the guidance with NCD, and Access Living shared the letter that it sent to you, dated May 18, 2018, detailing its concerns about possible changes and the anticipated impacts on people with disabilities, and asking that you delay issuing the guidance until you have met with national disability leaders.  NCD is eager to hear both FHEO’s and other disability organizations’ concerns so that we can form sound recommendations and advice on this essential guidance.
 
NCD is aware of one issue that FHEO plans to address in its revisions to the guidance - the emergence of an online industry that, for a fee, certifies that an animal is an assistance animal. This development is confounding people with disabilities and housing providers alike. This is a problem that needs an answer, however, we urge FHEO to maintain the balance that was carefully achieved by your 2013 guidance, and ensure that any changes are narrowly drawn so that the resulting guidance remains true to the protections conferred by the Fair Housing Act on people with disabilities.
 
Housing, employment, and transportation are the three legs that support the full inclusion of people with disabilities into society. Despite decades of federal efforts, including the passage of the ADA, and the housing opportunities made possible by the Fair Housing Act - obtaining these three things remains extremely challenging for people with disabilities. Progress has been made, but we must be careful - to weaken any one of these, will weaken all three. Thus, policy changes should be made only after carefully considering the possible impacts on people with disabilities - in this case, people who require the aid of an assistance animal in housing - including those for whom assistance animals are a necessary support that may mean the difference between institutionalization and community living.
 
We look forward to meeting you and your staff and opening a dialogue on disability-related housing issues. After the meeting, we will follow-up with our recommendations based on what we heard and learned, and hope that they will help inform your decisions on what will be in the final revised assistance animal guidance. 
 
Please feel free to have your staff contact Joan Durocher, General Counsel and Director of Policy, at jdurocher@ncd.gov regarding the rescheduled meeting date.
 
Very truly yours,
 
Neil Romano
Chairman