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House To Consider Legislation To Weaken Fair Housing Protections For Group Homes Serving People With Serious Brain Disorders

In response to concerns about the Fair Housing Act raised by local governments, the House Judiciary Committee is poised to act on legislation that would significantly erode legal protections that prevent housing discrimination against people with severe mental illnesses. The bill, known as the fair Housing Act Amendments of 1998 (H.R. 3206), was introduced last week by Representatives Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Charles Canady (R-FL) and Jane Harman (D-CA). The bill would amend the 1988 Fair Housing Act Amendments and erase hard earned protections for people with all disabilities, including persons with severe mental illnesses.

H.R. 3206 is being supported by a number of national organizations representing local governments and is designed to allow communities to accommodate "NIMBY" ("not in my backyard") opposition to group homes and other shared living arrangements that meet the needs of people with severe mental illnesses. Group homes serving people with serious brain disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression are especially vulnerable to NIMBY opposition given the stigma associated with these illnesses. The 1988 Fair Housing Act Amendments were designed to overcome this form of discrimination by a) making disability a "protected class" under the law and b) barring most zoning and land use policies that limit group homes.

The most troubling provisions of H.R. 3206 would limit housing opportunities for all people with disabilities (including adults with severe mental illnesses) living in group homes and make it much more difficult for victims of discrimination to file complaints with state and federal agencies enforcing the Fair Housing Act. Representative Canady, who serves as Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, is expected to move the bill to an up-or-down vote within the next month.

ACTION REQUESTED: NAMI is urging all its state and local chapters and affiliates to oppose this legislation by contacting members of the House Judiciary Committee, especially if a member of your state's congressional delegation serves on the Committee.

Included below are a set of "talking points" and further background on H.R. 3206 as well as a roster of members of the House Judiciary Committee and instructions on how each can be reached by e-mail, regular mail and fax. For more information on H.R. 3206, please contact Andrew Sperling on the NAMI staff at andrew@nami.org.

Talking Points:
1. H.R. 3206 discriminates against people with severe mental illnesses and their families. Currently, the Fair Housing Act prohibits enforcement of zoning rules that discriminate against group homes serving all people with disabilities including persons with severe mental illnesses. H.R. 3206 would amend this important civil rights law and allow zoning authorities to pass any regulation governing group homes for people with disabilities, as long as the regulation met a very vague standard of being "reasonably require(d)" for the "dispersal of such facilities." This change upsets the careful and proper balance that now exists between the legitimate powers of zoning authorities and the civil rights of people with disabilities.

2. H.R. 3206 would erase protections against harassment and intimidation of people with severe mental illnesses seeking fair housing opportunities. The Fair Housing Act currently prohibits speech and activity that directly interferes with the enjoyment of equal housing rights. For example, statements intended to drive an individual from their home because of their severe mental illness or other disability, i.e. vocal NIMBY opposition, are not protected by the 1st Amendment and are violations of the law. H.R. 3206 would amend this provision in the Fair Housing Act to provide that any "expression of an opinion" is to be protected, even if intended to further discrimination. This change would allow obscenities, verbal abuse or even a lawn sign stating a landlord's or neighbor's "opinion" about a person's disability.

3. H.R. 3206 would add major procedural obstacles to the Fair Housing Act's enforcement procedures, resulting in the delay or denial of valid discrimination claims by people with severe mental illnesses. The law now provides effective enforcement procedures which ensure a quick disposition of all complaints and allows access to the federal courts for valid complaints. H.R. 3206 would require that relief must first be sought at all state and local administrative agencies before a suit could be brought in federal court. H.R. 3206 would amend the Fair Housing Act to attach exhaustive measures on the complaint process by increasing the layers of local and state administrative bureaucracy. This would be a significant drain on the time, energy and resources of people with severe mental illnesses and the non-profit groups that operate groups homes. The bill would also diminish the likelihood that housing providers, consumers and families could obtain a quick and fair settlement in cases where group homes are opposed as a result of NIMBYism.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee Henry Hyde (Illinois), Chairman, 2138 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-7682 F. James Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin), 2332 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-3190 Bill McCollum (Florida), 2266 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-0999 George W. Gekas (Pennsylvania), 2410 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-8440 Howard Coble (North Carolina), 2239 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-8611 Lamar S. Smith (Texas), 2231 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-8628 Steven Schiff (New Mexico), 2404 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-4975 Elton Gallegly (California), 2427 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-1100 Charles Canady (Florida), 2432 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-2279 Bob Inglis (South Carolina), 320 CHOB, FAX: 202/226-1177 Bob Goodlatte (Virginia), 123 CHOB, FAX: 202/225-9681 Steve Buyer (Indiana), 326 CHOB, FAX: 202/225-2267 Ed Bryant (Tennessee), 408 CHOB, FAX: 202/225-2989 Steve Chabot (Ohio), 129 CHOB, FAX: 202/225-3012 Bob Barr (Georgia), 1130 LHOB, FAX: 202/225-2944 William L. Jenkins (Tennessee), 1708 LHOB, FAX: 202/225-5714 Asa Hutchinson (Arkansas), 1535 LHOB, FAX: 202/225-5713 Edward Pease (Indiana), 226 CHOB, FAX: 202/225-5805 Christopher Cannon (Utah), 118 CHOB, FAX: 202/225-5629 James E. Rogan (California), 502 CHOB, FAX: 202/225-5828 John Conyers, Jr. (Michigan), Ranking Member, 2426 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-0072 Barney Frank (Massachusetts), 2210 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-0182 Charles E. Schumer (New York), 2211 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-4183 Howard Berman (California), 2330 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-5279 Rick Boucher (Virginia), 2329 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-0442 Jerrold Nadler (New York), 2448 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-5635 Bobby Scott (Virginia), 2464 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-8354 Melvin Watt (North Carolina), 1230 LHOB, FAX: 202/225-1512 Zoe Lofgren (California), 318 CHOB, FAX: 202/225-3336 Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), 410 CHOB, FAX: 202/225-3317 Maxine Waters (California), 2344 RHOB, FAX: 202/225-7854 Marty Meehan (Massachusetts), 2434 RHOB, FAX: 202/226-0771 William Delahunt (Massachusetts), 1517 LHOB, FAX: 202/225-5658 Robert I. Wexler (Florida), 1609 LHOB, FAX: 202/225-5974 Steven R. Rothman (New Jersey), 1607 LHOB, FAX: 202/225-5851

Note: All members of Congress can be reached by telephone through the U.S. Capitol switchboard, at 202/224-3121. If you wish to send an e-mail message, you can do so through the Internet site at http://congress.org/elecmail.html. Simply select the name of the member you wish to contact, and you will be given an e-mail form to complete. All members of Congress can be reached by mail by writing to:

The Honorable __________, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515.

 

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