Fair Housing

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Ericka Jones

Disabled Woman Calls for More Safe, Accessible Housing Options

Though there are many challenges facing the disability community today, there are some basic rights that all people should have access to. Safety and accessibility are just a couple. For instance, one should never have to make the choice between safety and just having a place to lay their head at night. Everyone should have the right to live in a place that they feel safe and secure in. They should also not have to settle because the safer places they looked at are not physically accessible. However, that is often not what happens.

I myself had to choose between accessibility and safety. Why? Money. I’m glad that there are programs out there that help persons with disabilities to find a place to live. Programs like Section 8 and the Housing and Urban Development offices (HUD) are there to help individuals or families that are lower income find affordable housing. I feel like these programs at least acknowledge the problem of people with disabilities needing a place to live within the community.

However, not all of the low income housing listed is going to be accessible to those with physical disabilities. A lot of times the selections are limited severely or you are left with zero results. What do you do then when this was supposed to be your last option? While I was apartment searching last year, one of the apartment complexes my husband and I looked at was advertised as “wheelchair accessible” so we decided to give it a chance. The apartment we were shown had a large step to get up to the door and no access ramp near the entrance. Or in the other cases, the only model they could show us was on the third floor which is most definitely not accessible to a wheelchair. Like I said, it’s great that they offer such a program but there is still a lot to be desired when it comes to individuals with disabilities.

Also, the housing properties that HUD or Section 8 often covers put the tenant in the middle of a dangerous neighborhood. And with an alarmingly high rate of violent attacks against individuals with disabilities, said person has to be a little pickier about what side of town they choose to live. I was in a situation where I was living with a boyfriend in a very low income area for a time. While there I witnessed a murder and several violent drug related incidents. I often felt scared to leave by myself. When I finally gathered up the courage to rush out to the car by myself, I was harassed in the parking lot by this one group of drug dealers. It was going around that because my parents lived in a certain side of town, they thought I had money. I didn’t. Luckily, I was able to move back home without incident. But when all one can afford is the dangerous side of town… what do you do?

It is no coincidence that there is only a small amount of apartment or condo complexes that take Section 8 or work with HUD. Additionally, there is a reason they are usually clumped together on one side of town. Other complexes look at the section 8 application and automatically see the tenant as a financial liability to them. Landlords automatically see the people as someone who cannot pay normal rates, thus they are not good enough to live there. I understand why they do it, it is standard business practice to try and avoid taking losses if they can and gain as much profit at the same time. But it is still wrong to assume because many people are just trying to get by and better their lives. They shouldn’t have to worry about if someone is going to break in and kill them today. Or worry about the drug dealers selling out back. Or even worry about the bullets flying because someone messed with the wrong person.

If all these scenarios weren’t disturbing enough, many people with disabilities have no idea they have rights as tenants to live comfortably under the Fair Housing Act. So when they do finally find a suitable home, tenants are often refused basic improvements like ramps for entry to their apartments or grab bars in bathrooms. This occurs because there is a lack of education for the law on the part of the tenant and the landlord.

It is crucial that this information gets into the hands of those who need it before they end up in dire situations. Information is powerful in fighting for what you need to live. Knowing your rights as a tenant and what needs to be done as a property owner can also make a working relationship much smoother. The challenge is trying to figure out a method of delivering the information to those who need it. There are a number of effective ways to educate people with disabilities on resources available to them. For example, the programs that mean to help people with disabilities could work with their physicians to deliver information via their waiting rooms. Additionally, information could be sent to complex property owners in the area and updated when changes are made into policy.

An alternative could be that every complex is required to have a certain amount of people with disabilities as tenants. That way, people with disabilities are not all shoved into one side of town where they are often times constantly in danger. Also with this requirement, it would force property owners to build more accessible ramps because of increase in need. As it stands now, there is no encouragement for anyone to do this though.

If the incentive to take Section 8 tenants were more beneficial to landlords, there would be no reason not to. More people with disabilities would have safer and totally accessible options for places to live and it would work out better for both sides. But an agreement has to be made and included in writing and enforced through the ADA/Fair Housing Act or nothing will come of it.