Struggling to find Accessible Homes

The United States has half the number of accessible homes as households that need them.

Apartment hunting is stressful. But finding a place to live that is accessible is like searching for a needle in a haystack. If you use a wheelchair you need an elevator building or a ground floor apartment, with hardwood floors, automatic door openers and a roll in shower. There is a huge gap between availability and the people who need them.
     If disability is limited to mobility constraints, accessibility features needed include steeples entry, entry-level bathroom and bedroom, or an in-unit elevator, no steps between rooms or steps with grab rails and a bathroom with grab bars. Sometimes properties are misrepresented as being accessible, which doesn’t help.
    Although 15% of households include someone with a disability, only 9% are giving in an accessible home. The supply doesn’t meet the demand. In some cases, people who don’t need these homes are occupying the scarce resources. This leaves people who must-have the features are competing against people who are “accessibility-agnostic”.
    Where is the accessible housing located? In multi-family housing or apartment buildings. The good news is accessible multifamily housing has been the fastest-growing construction sector in the 2000’s. The reason? Developers who receive state or federal funds to build subsidized affordable housing, must face accessibility requirements, as do buildings subject to the Fair Housing Act of 1991, which mandates accessibility requirements for complexes of at least four units.
     But that law doesn’t apply to buildings with three units or less, townhouses or anything constructed before 1991. And newer buildings usually cost more. People with disabilities have lower incomes but can’t find lower rents.  This often results in those who don’t qualify for subsidized or public housing, but can’t afford to buy a place, searching for one that works or paying out of pocket for modifications. Sometimes a renter and a landlord can agree to split the costs.
     Those who find accessible housing or afford modifications must settle for homes without the features they need – even homes that are unsafe. Or they have to live with friends and family. So for some the sacrifice isn’t just the neighborhood or your rent, it’s your independence.
    Cities like Oregon, have up-zoned, marrying new development with accessibility to help address the shortage. Granny flat construction, which is surging, could also help. These small apartments often include accessible design since they are targeted at older adults and those with mobility constraints.
    There is also a rapidly aging population with lower homeownership rates than in pre-2008 levels. And to most Americans, the coronavirus pandemic has emphasized the importance of having a safe place to live.