The City of Hudson, which has been out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act since it was signed into law almost 30 years ago, is being forced to make municipal buildings and the city’s sidewalks accessible to those with disabilities after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
The Hudson Common Council passed a resolution approving a consent agreement with the DOJ Tuesday. The agreement is expected to be signed by Mayor Rick Rector.
The agreement lays out a timetable for the city to make accommodations for those with disabilities under the eye of the DOJ to avoid possible litigation, according to the agreement.
The cost of the improvements, which include providing access to city buildings and the city’s sidewalks, is up in the air.
The path leading to the consent agreement started earlier this year, when three individuals filed a complaint with the DOJ, “alleging, among other things, that the City of Hudson’s sidewalks are inaccessible, and, that there is no accessible entrance to City Hall, Promenade Hill…Park, and other locations where the City provides programs, services and activities,” according to the consent agreement.
The names of those making the complaint are not available from the DOJ, according to city officials.
The DOJ found Hudson was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after investigating access at various city-owned buildings and the city’s sidewalks, stating the investigation “substantiated allegations in the complaints that qualified individuals with disabilities, are, by reason of their disability, excluded from participation in or are denied the benefits of many of Hudson’s programs, services or activities.”
Along with inaccessibility, the DOJ found Hudson did not have a required ADA coordinator; its employees were not trained in the requirements of the ADA; and there were not accommodations for the hearing-impaired.
Hudson is a historic city, and many of its public buildings were constructed prior to the passage of the ADA in 1990. The major buildings constructed since then – the city’s Central Fire Station and the new Police and Courts Building – were built in compliance with the ADA, according to Hudson Mayor Rick Rector.
City buildings constructed before then do not have to be accessible to the degree that more contemporary buildings must, said Hudson City Attorney Andrew Howard.
However, even older buildings must have a “reasonable mechanism” to provide access, Howard said.
Mayor Rector was already seeking to make City Hall ADA compliant prior to the DOJ investigation. The city requested proposals from companies in Nov. 2018 to make this happen, awarding a contract to Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson, an architectural and historic preservation firm, in January 2019.
The building, which houses the majority of city offices, is not wheelchair-accessible from the street, and has no elevators providing access to the second floor.
Though Rector had sought to make the city more accessible since taking office, the process was given new urgency after Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga badly injured her leg, confining her to a wheelchair for months.
She was unable to get into City Hall, and Common Council meetings were held at the Hudson Area Library so she could attend.
Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson released four proposals in September, with costs between $131,000 and $3.1 million.
Outgoing Mayor Rector said he does not favor the $3.1 million option, and the building could be ADA accessible with the $131,000 option.
Rector has less than a month left in office after losing the Democratic Mayoral Primary to Kamal Johnson. Johnson is not facing a challenger in the general election for mayor.
Rector said he was “open to anything” for improving access to the city’s services, including relocating them to the old John L. Edwards Primary School, which was shuttered last year due to low enrollment from the county’s falling birth rate.
“More than likely, I won’t be part of that decision-making process,” he said, due to his limited time left in office.
“The city is aware of the issue, we’re addressing it, and it has been my goal to take it reasonably as far as I can, and I think we’re seeing some progress, with or without the consent agreement,” Rector said.
He pointed to a call box recently erected in front of City Hall so denizens with trouble accessing the offices could alert employees inside. After the call button is pushed, a city employee comes out to help the denizen with whatever services they need.
Alderwoman Garriga recently tested out the call box in a Facebook Live post.
However, access to City Hall is only one of many improvements the city must make under the consent agreement.
Within 30 days of the agreement’s signing, the city must appoint an ADA coordinator, which can be an existing city employee. The coordinator must receive training within 90 days, according to the agreement.
Within 60 days, the city must find someone who can communicate with sign language to be available in person or through Video Remote Interpreting.
The city must also retain an Independent Licensed Architect to oversee the implementation of alterations to the city’s infrastructure so it complies with the ADA.
The biggest costs in the agreement may lie in required alterations to the city’s sidewalks and “curb ramps” – the slanted edges of sidewalks leading to the road surface at crosswalks that allow those with mobility issues to use them. The agreement states routes to city facilities must be ADA compliant, and are currently far from sufficient.
It is currently the responsibility of the property owner to maintain the sidewalk abutting their land.
Hudson can make its sidewalks ADA compliant “by (1) enforcing local ordinances requiring property owners to maintain or repair street level pedestrian walkways and curb ramps and/or (2) making the necessary changes or repairs itself,” according to the consent agreement.
It is not known if the cost of altering sidewalks will fall on property owners or the city.
The cost of even the improvements to City Hall have not yet been budgeted for, according to Rector. The costs of the DOJ-required improvements are also without known funding.
Alderman Rob Bujan, the chair of the Common Council Finance Committee, said a working group including the ADA coordinator needed to be formed to figure out the improvements and how to budget for them.
“We don’t have the funds set aside for it yet, but we have to do it at the end of the day,” he said.
Within 9 months of the signing of the agreement, Hudson and its retained architect must “identify and report to the [DOJ]” all barriers – such as broken sidewalks or missing curb ramps – disallowing residents with disabilities from getting to any of the city’s “programs, services, and activities in the Center of Hudson,” according to the agreement.
The city must start taking steps to make these improvements within a year, according to the agreement.
Hudson is not alone in its non-compliance with the ADA.
The DOJ has been increasingly cracking down on communities not following the law, and such large cities as Atlanta, New York City, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon have faced lawsuits due to the disrepair of their sidewalks, according to NPR’s CityLab.
Los Angeles entered into a three-decade, $1.4 billion agreement to improve its sidewalks in 2015 after a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of residents with disabilities, according to the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office.
Afterword: How Much Will It Cost?
There’s this guy in Hudson I always see on some sort of Rascal scooter – those carts people with mobility issues use in Wal-Marts. [ppp_patron_only level=”9″ silent=”no”]
This isn’t unusual in itself, but the guy is always driving RIGHT in the middle of the street. It’s nearly impossible to get around him.
Thankfully, the scooter seems to be closer in speed to a golf cart, so it’s not as road-rage producing as it seems. I asked a dude I know about it once, wondering why the hell the police don’t tell him not to do this, as it’s obviously very dangerous.
The dude I know hypothesized the man had mobility issues, and, since the city’s sidewalks weren’t ADA-accessible, the cops couldn’t say shit about him breaking the law, because the only reason he had to do this was because the city was breaking the law by not providing sidewalks for his cart.
I’m not sure if this is the case (which why this is in the afterword), but it points to how a seemingly remote issue for many of us impacts specific individuals greatly.
I would not want to be in a wheelchair in Hudson. Though Warren Street’s sidewalks are basically fine, the city’s lower-income residential areas to the North of Warren have horrible sidewalks. Some of them are inexplicably shattered into weird angles, as though they’ve been hit by small meteors. Providence Hall, which provides Section 8 housing to seniors or those with disabilities, is in this part of the city, and someone in a wheelchair wouldn’t get far on a sidewalk before having to wheel themselves off a curb and into the city’s busy truck route to continue. If they were able to do this at all.
It’s a huge issue for a small part of the population, in other words.
The other side of this is the cost of making these improvements. Hiring the architect could prove to be expensive. I asked Hudson City Attorney Andrew Howard if they would need to be retained for the three-year duration of the consent agreement, but he did not know.
Architects are expensive. And that’s before any projects have broken ground.
This could be viewed as an unfunded mandate – a higher level of government (in this case, the federal DOJ) forcing a lower form of government (Hudson) to do something, but without providing any money for it.
Mayor Rector said there were grants available to make improvements, which is great, but it’s a whole can of worms actually getting those grants.
If the city decides to make property owners improve their own abutting sidewalks (which is how the city is currently set up), it’s going to piss a lot of people off. I can hear the argument – “It’s the city that failed to do anything about their legal obligations for 30 years, why am I stuck with the bill?” And they wouldn’t be wrong.
There’s been many mayoral administrations since the ADA came into effect in 1990. The outgoing mayor, Rick Rector, has actually tried to something about the problem. Past administrations have just been passing the buck, something small municipalities – especially Hudson – struggle with.