As an Independent Living Specialist, part of my job is to have Information and Referral sessions with consumers. During these sessions, the consumer talks about an issue they are having at the moment, and are seeking some resources to help solve the issue that they might be having.
The most common reason people call for is affordable, accessible housing. We have consumers that call in, asking for housing to accommodate for a wheelchair or a walker on a regular basis. Consumers that are asking for accessible housing usually ask for a unit that has a flat entrance, an elevator or wide doorways/hallways.
Unfortunately, the issue is, there isn’t enough affordable, accessible housing. If there was accessible housing, typically it’s units available in senior housing apartments. Most of the time, the consumers that I speak to are uneasy with the idea of moving into senior housing, just to gain access to a flat entrance or an elevator. This is completely understandable, especially if the consumer is someone who is in their 30s or 40s and doesn’t want to be the youngest person in the entire building.
When there is affordable, accessible housing for people who are under the age of 62, there often comes a waiting list. This waitlist can span from a couple of months to a couple of years, depending on demand and who is on the list. I always recommend to my consumers to not be discouraged if they see or hear the word “waitlist.” I recommend to consumers to place themselves on the waitlist, and to check-in periodically. It’s always better to be on a list, then to not. Also, I have found that sometimes the waitlist may not be updated regularly, so it still helps to contact the realty company of the property.
General Tips for Finding Accessible, Affordable Housing
I like to go over housing options with consumers, because one of the biggest rules when it comes to finding accessible housing is to be flexible. Often times, I would have to ask my consumers to consider moving to other parts of the county/city. If there are little to no accessible units that are available in an idealistic zipcode, and the ones that are available have a long waitlist, then I really encourage people to reconsider their area.
One of the housing options that I like to educate consumers on is homesharing, that is, living and renting a room in someone else’s home, and be in a “roommate situation.” Often times, as soon as mention the word “homeshare”, consumers immediately say “no” and insist on living in their own place. Unfortunately “homeshare” may come with a bad reputation for being in a living situation where there just isn’t any compatibility with a roommate. Homesharing should be a consideration for people who want affordable housing, and sometimes, these units may have accessibility depending on the needs of the person. When you share a home with someone it can really cut down on rent and utility expenses, and make your ideal area to live, more of a reality.
I use an online database that is available for everyone, which is mdhousingsearch.org. This website provides a listing of potential affordable housing available in Maryland. There is also a separate listing for potential apartments that have accessible features, such as elevators, minimal steps, roll-in bathrooms and grab bars. Again, usually the accessible searches that I perform come up with senior housing, which many of these units only allow people who are aged 62 and over. However, I would suggest searching under the “eligible disabled” category. Some senior housing complexes offer units that are available for younger people with disabilities. Some accessible apartment/townhome units can also be found, and may not be senior housing, but it would depend on what the consumer needs.
Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8)
I wanted to do some research on local affordable housing in our service area for Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Harford County. Recently, there was a case in which the Baltimore County Government voted against the development of affordable homes that would accept the section 8 housing choice voucher. This vote would not allow funding for Homes for America, a non-profit affordable housing organization, to build several units in the Rosedale area. Allegedly, this proposal was turned down because there was negative feedback from the community. The community had concerns that adding voucher-approved homes would cause an increase in the amount of crime, as well as crowding schools. (source: Baltimore Sun) It’s really sad that there continues to be a strong stigma against voucher holders.
There is a new campaign that recently started to try to remove the stigma associated with having a housing choice voucher. The Consider the Person campaign aims at increasing awareness of the housing voucher system and the people who hold these vouchers. The website contains general information on the housing voucher, local news related to the HCV, and personal accounts from people who hold vouchers. This would help the general public understand that just because an individual or family possess a voucher, does not mean that there is an increased amount of crime or disturbance in the neighborhood. (Source: Consider the Person)
It is a myth that people who hold a voucher are going to increase the level of crime and disturbance in a neighborhood. This is simply untrue, especially because most voucher holders know that if they do commit crime or disturbances, their voucher privileges are in danger. Once an individual loses their voucher, their voucher may never come back. There have been reports about disturbances or property damage in the neighborhood, and often times the perpetrators that commit these crimes are often assumed to be voucher holders. However, only a very small amount of these perpetrators are people who actually hold a voucher. (Source: Consider the Person)
I’ve been to meetings where the topic is creating affordable housing, but there just isn’t enough advocacy for affordable, accessible housing. I’m hoping that, eventually, there will be more advocacy from the community to provide accessible housing. I encourage people who want more affordable, accessible housing to attend local public meetings about housing and let your voice be heard.