Thomas DeFries has lived with Parkinson’s disease for nearly a decade.
Many routine tasks — like taking a shower — have become burdensome since his diagnosis.
Living without a grab bar in the bathroom of his Chicago Housing Authority unit in Lake View doesn’t help the 74-year-old.
That’s why the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, DeFries, and three fellow senior residents with limited mobility at Mulvey Apartments filed a federal complaint late Monday evening against CHA for failing to install grab bars in the bathrooms of their units.
For DeFries, putting a grab bar in his bathroom is a simple fix that would drastically improve his quality of life.
“I love my living quarters and [the CHA] takes very good care of the building, but I’m afraid of taking a shower. I have balance issues every time I go in there” he said. “Putting in grab bars in the bathroom seems so minor, but when you have Parkinson’s disease, life is full of minor things that you never thought of before.”
Citing ongoing litigation, CHA officials declined to comment on Tuesday.
The CHA purchased Mulvey Place and two other buildings on the North Side for $19 million in 2016. It projected spending another $3.3 million in repairs and renovations.
Jane Addams and the four seniors at Mulvey Place petitioned the CHA to install grab bars in their bathrooms in March.
The CHA approved the request but has yet to install the grab bars.
The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, charges the CHA with “[engaging] in a pattern and practice of disability discrimination” for not providing senior residents with bathroom grab bars in their units upon request in a timely manner.
“The [CHA] is required by federal civil rights laws to promptly install grab bars when a person with a disability needs them,” said Emily Coffey, staff attorney at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. “We should ensure that the safety of elderly and disabled residents is valued and prioritized.”
In a statement issued in June, the CHA said it has spent nearly half a billion dollars over the last five years in renovations and repairs of its properties, with another estimated $152 million to be spent on building upgrades by the end of this year.
The agency has been taken to task in recent months over its dilapidated elevator fleet.
The city and the CHA insist that the elevators are safe, but a June investigation by the Better Government Association and WBEZ revealed how elevators in public high-rises for seniors “break with disturbing frequency…despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent with politically connected contractors to make buildings more liveable.”