Accessible, Affordable Housing Is Not Optional
Accessible housing is not optional for people with disabilities. Poverty and disability too often combine for too many people. It is one thing to know this double whammy exists intellectually. To see the impact in a person packs a visceral punch that cannot be denied.
Think of how profoundly moving images of people attempting to rescue a beached whale affect you. Then think about how you feel reading an article on whaling ships. The first instance has far more impact on the concept of “save the whales,” but the second instance is far more crucial to actually saving all the whales.
Affordable vs. accessible housing
Affordable housing gets considerable attention. Housing crises exist everywhere these days. I have been standing up and detailing the need for ACCESSIBLE affordable housing to my City Council and other groups to no avail. No one seems willing to act.
My city’s deals increase profits for developers but do nothing to give a break to tenants. The deals affect just a token number of designated affordable units. I suggested to City Council that there be a mandate for universal design elements in all housing in the city. The responses all say it can’t be done. The excuses I’m given include the high expense, state law, building codes, unwilling developers — the list goes on.
It makes me wonder how we ever got laws passed to require interior bathrooms or electricity as part of common minimum housing “amenities.” Speculative, or spec, development is the norm today. Only well-off people can afford to build custom homes. The rest of us get cookie-cutter housing developments where everything is the same. Bulk purchases of standard items makes for sensible and efficient building ― for the able-bodied.
People with disabilities are not cookie-cutter people. We cannot live or sometimes even visit cookie-cutter dwellings.
Accessible ― only if you can afford it
Like all of America’s safety nets and labor laws and other so-called protections, a closer look reveals them to be inadequate. Last week at our City Council meeting, a woman ― in a wheelchair ― became a hero to me. She was being evicted from the house she had rented for six and a half years because the owner sold it. It was to be torn down for a new multi-unit luxury apartment complex, so she had to move. She needed an accessible home immediately, and she had run out of options. She came to plead with the City Council to help her find a place where she could live and afford. They listened and helped. Just like people willingly help one stranded whale but ignore the deaths of hundreds.
I wanted to be able to speak. To stand up and say, “I TOLD YOU SO!” Or, “This is what I have been talking about!” But “Robert’s Rules of Order“ denied me the chance to reinforce my position that action must be taken for accessible housing.
The Fair Housing Act “solves” the accessible housing problem in useless ways. In her case, the landlord permitted her to remodel the house AT HER OWN EXPENSE, with a ramp ($2,000) and other features. No landlord must allow accommodations, even with the tenant paying for them. Worse, the landlord may require the tenant to PAY FOR THE REMOVAL of all accessible improvements when they leave!
She is now out the money, has no extra money to do it all over again at another landlord’s rental, and cannot afford “market rate” rent. As in all cases where market rates are touted as if they are valid, what they really are is a license to exploit and profit from vulnerable people with limited or no alternatives.
Fight for truly fair housing
I am not prepared to spend the rest of my life watching people with disabilities suffer with living choices equivalent to requiring them to live in a home with an outhouse instead of modern plumbing. Speak up! Make change happen.
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