Who Doesn’t Love House Hunting?
Finding and securing accessible housing is a challenge for many of us. Mary Taloff is in the process of looking for a new place now. I asked her to share her thoughts on the process. She does so in the post below. As always, she does an excellent job.
House hunting. We’ve all done it. Trying to find that perfect place to live, scouring the Internet for every possible lead. Looking for housing options is challenging for everybody, but even more so for those of us who use wheelchairs or have some sort of mobility challenge.
For me, the search starts at the front door. Are there steps? If so, how many? If it’s only a few steps, I can make that work. Ramps are relatively cheap nowadays. But anything more than three or four steps is a no-go.
Once I’m in the door, I immediately scope out the bathroom. I’m not talking about whether I like the decor, I’m looking at whether or not I can literally get in the door. If I can, do I have room to maneuver in my chair? Most bathrooms are way too small to be able to turn around in, so my priority is summed up with one question: Can I shut the door behind me? No need to be flashing everyone when I’m doing my thing. 🙂 Assuming those two things are doable, I’m pretty happy.
What does the word “accessible” mean to you?
When I’m viewing apartments for rent, I’ve discovered that “wheelchair accessible” means different things to different people. For example, when I went to look at a place the other day, I arrived and discovered that there were two rather large steps into the apartment. I had to have a friend take a video of the place on her phone for me to watch.
One time, I asked an apartment complex representative if they had an accessible apartment and was told “yes,” only to discover that it was upstairs and there wasn’t an elevator. While I’m good, I’m not that good. Until magic is real and I’m accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, staircases just aren’t possible.
I’ve learned when asking about available apartments to specify that I’m looking for a downstairs unit, or to make sure there’s an elevator. That way I can win them over with my charming personality before they start worrying about my chair.
I’ve encountered some apprehensive landlords through the years because they either were worried I’d ask for accommodations or that there’d be too much wear and tear done to the apartment from my wheelchair. I have concerns like any other tenant about how they’ll meet my needs too. In the end, it all comes down to an open and honest dialogue between me, the renter, and the apartment complex management office or landlord.
Reponses to accessibility requests vary. The apartment I’m living in now has been great. When I moved in they specifically asked me what changes I needed. They added bars in the bathroom, changed the shower head to a handheld model, took off my closet door so I had more room, and changed the carpet in my room to laminate (this was important, my chair destroys carpet. No really, you should have seen the burn marks in the hallway at my parents’ house from repeated trips to my room). Some complexes and management companies, however, aren’t as accommodating.
Hard to find
The Americans with Disabilities Act has been very helpful with this, and some complexes have designated ADA units available. These generally tend to be on the larger side and are the best option if you can find one.
But just know going in that they are hard to find, because they’re in high demand. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “although around a third of housing in the U.S. is potentially modifiable for a person with a mobility disability, currently less than five percent is accessible for individuals with moderate mobility difficulties and less than one percent of housing is accessible for wheelchair users.” (New York University, Furman Center, 2015)
All in all, it’s a full-time job finding a place to live and I’ll be glad when it’s over. Eventually, I’d love to see brettapproved expand to include accessible housing options, because right now information is scarce.
As a community, we need to share all of the resources we know of so that hopefully it becomes easier to find places to live for everyone. If you have any crazy house hunting stories, please share them on the brettapproved Facebook page. We’ll get through this together! 🙂