Saturday, August 24, 2013

RIGHT TO A FAIR HEARING

As a public housing tenant, you have the right to appeal many decisions or actions taken by the Housing Authority. Examples include when the Housing Authority issues an Eviction Notice, a 10 Day Notice to Vacate, or denies a reasonable accommodation on the basis of disability; a resident will receive (or should receive) a copy of the Grievance Procedure. Every Housing Authority is required by federal law to adopt a written public housing grievance procedure.

From this resident's perspective based on my experience with the process, the King County Housing Authority grievance procedure is established to support the best interests of the Housing Authority and does not offer its residents a fair review of their complaint.  


King County Housing Authority has a two-tiered procedure which includes a hearing, if requested, to assure KCHA residents a reasonable review of the tenant's complaint regarding the Housing Authority's action or failure to act in such a a way which the tenant believes adversely affects their rights, duties, welfare or status. 

I have been through the grievance procedure twice when my requests for reasonable accommodation on the basis of disability (ADA and Fair Housing) were denied by the HA. The policy, known as the Housing Authority of the County of King Grievance Procedure is very difficult to understand without the assistance of an attorney.The first time I did not understand the policy or my rights under the policy and was unaware that the HA had not followed its own procedure. The second time I did; but that knowledge changed nothing.

In a letter dated March 25th, 2013 to Commissioner Richard E. Mitchell, I expressed concerns in detail with supporting evidence and stated, "At the March Commissioners meeting, the Housing Authority presented a briefing to the Board on the reasonable accommodation process and grievance procedure." "I'd like to share with you a little of my personal experience with the RA process and the grievance procedure...both the RA process and the grievance procedure experiences are brutal." "I don't believe my experience is at all unique either."  I informed him one of the hearing officers, Donna Morse, gave KCHA the "deal of the century" (her words). Commissioner Mitchell never responded to my letter.

The Resident Advisory Committee has since met twice to discuss the hearing process. Based on comments made by my fellow RAC colleagues, my experience of alleged unfair and biased treatment is not isolated. It remains to be seen what changes, if any, will be made to the HA's policies and procedures. But it is very discouraging to me that Hearing Officer, Donna Morse, has recently been reappointed. With eyes watching, I can only hope there will be no more "deals of the century" for KCHA.

To assure a fair process, the HA should provide residents with a policy that is easy to interpret and understand and adhere to its own policies. Hearing Officers must demonstrate an unbiased approach. Tenant complaints regarding unfair hearing practices should be investigated and done so in a timely manner; the results of which should be presented to the Commissioners for review. A rotation schedule should be established with oversight to assure no one hearing officer decides the majority of cases. I also advocate for term limits of no longer than ten years. KCHA Commissioners have term limits. The same should be true for hearing officers.

To learn more about your rights as a public housing resident, visit http://www.washingtonlawhelp.org

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