Disabled Public Housing Tenants Concerned About Safety at Cliff Manor

Willie George lives his life on wheels.

The Navy veteran uses a motorized wheelchair to get around Cliff Manor, a 173-unit Dallas Housing Authority apartment complex specifically designated to house the disabled.

It was built in 1974 and George says he fears for his and his neighbors' safety inside the building every day because they're disabled.

"My biggest fear is a fire. I'm on the 12th floor, so the elevator isn't an option. If the fire's not on my floor I hope it stays on the floor it's on," George said.

The safety concerns have been bothering George for more than a decade, but public housing is all he can afford. He's been asking to be transferred out of Cliff Manor since 2005, but has had no success.

"They tell me, 'We're working on it,' and then nothing happens. I do everything I'm supposed to do. It's not my fault I'm still here," he said.

Cliff Manor is located between two Dallas Fire and Rescue stations, both of them are more than a mile away. George's fear is that if a fire were to break out, or another emergency situation presented itself, he and the other mobility impaired residents living on upper floors could not get out quickly.

George said he would roll himself to the staircase and hope one of his neighbors could help him down or do it himself if he couldn't wait for someone to help him.

"I'd have to first get out of the chair and then bounce down the stairs - step by step - and hope I don't fall over and roll the rest of the way," he said.

Cliff Manor is equipped with fire-sprinklers and the building has an emergency evacuation plan available for residents to review.  NBC 5 requested a copy of the fire plan, but one was not made available as of Friday night.

In response to residents' concerns about safety Dallas Housing Authority President and CEO Troy Broussard said:

"As part of our fire preparedness strategy, the Housing Authority conducts fire drills at Cliff Manor. During those drills, families who are not able to safely exit the building via the stairwell and need assistance are instructed to take precautions in accordance with Dallas Fire and Rescue instructions. Additionally, a list of all tenants who may need additional assistance in the event of an emergency, is provided to first responders."

While George's situation may seem unsafe, DHA is not required to provide disabled residents special accommodations to get out of the building in the case of an emergency.

"Generally speaking, there's no obligation that a housing provider, whether it's DHA, whether its an apartment complex privately owned, provide somebody to help get down if there's a fire," said Disability Rights Texas attorney Rachel Cohen Miller. She said it's a matter of people, regardless of their disability being able to choose where they want to  live.

Fair Housing laws prohibit discrimination based on physical disabilities. Putting someone on a lower floor just because they're in a wheelchair is discrimination.

Cohen Miller said if George, or any disabled tenant, wants to move to a lower floor or leave the building they have to ask.

"(DHA) can't ask questions about somebody's perceived disability," she said. "They're also not allowed to (make special accommodations) automatically. He can certainly ask for an accommodation and to do that he would go down to the management office."

George knows that, which is why he's asked to be transferred from Cliff Manor about a half-dozen times since 2005. Each request has gone nowhere.

"I've done everything I'm supposed to do to get that done they just haven't followed through on their part," George said.

DHA does not publicly discuss tenant matters.

George said he's filed another transfer petition and is still hoping to move.

"My solution is (DHA) gives me the opportunity to get away from where I'm at. When they do all you'll see from me is dust as I ride out the door," George said.

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