Support for more accessible housing options is badly needed

Living in one’s home community, and having good housing choices, is part of the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act […]

Living in one’s home community, and having good housing choices, is part of the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and of the Olmstead U.S. Supreme court ruling on community inclusion. Those promises are not being met.

Too many of us have lost our ability to live in our home communities due to the personal care staffing crisis. Limits placed on staff in some assisted living situations – such as no-lift policies – make the housing search even more challenging.

But another huge barrier is simply finding housing that is accessible, affordable and safe.

Gov. Tim Walz has earmarked $1.5 billion to help meet a growing need for working-class and low-income housing, through various tax breaks and subsidies These measures include more veterans’ housing, money to build new housing, rent assistance and restoration of the state’s historic tax credit.

The historic tax credit expired last year. Efforts to continue it were lost in the meltdown at session’s end. The credit doesn’t just preserve stately mansions. It also is an important tool that can help preserve and create needed housing of all types, including affordable and accessible housing. Some estimates are that $1 of historic tax credits can generate $9 to $10 in added investment toward housing production.

The Metropolitan Council has indicated that the Twin Cities region needs 13,000 new housing units per year through 2040 to keep up with demand created by projected population and workforce growth. Even more housing is needed in Greater Minnesota, especially in communities where too much rental housing is dated and inaccessible.
One in four of us will become disabled. Yet try to find an accessible dwelling unit for the “ones” and you’ll see how daunting the search can be. That’s especially true for people who have modest incomes.

Don’t believe us? Do a search on any apartment or housing rental website and look for accessibility. That narrows the field. Then look at the pictures to see the so-called accessible rentals that are available. Tell us that tall countertops or narrow doorways are truly accessible. Taking a tour in-person can be truly eye-opening.

We see big new apartment buildings springing up in many places, and we know they’re not for us. Rents can be out of reach. We don’t need luxuries like granite countertops and fitness rooms and party decks. We need countertops we can reach while seated in a wheelchair and doors our chairs and mobility devices can fit through. We need toilets of the right height, and wall space for grab bars.

We people with disabilities have to consider so many other things when looking for housing. We may need a place that allows a service animal. We may need a parking space that can accommodate an accessible van. We may need cabinet and closet doors that don’t take superhuman efforts to open and close. We may need a quiet room or rooms without excess noise from neighbors.

Let’s talk about personal hygiene. Those big old clawfoot bathtubs are charming as can be. But try getting in and out of one if you have mobility issues. Finding a reasonably priced rental unit with a roll-in shower, that is near family and friends and work, can be like hunting for a unicorn.

Try finding an accessible and affordable rental unit large enough for a family, and it can be like hunting for a flying unicorn that speaks four languages.

Rising interest rates and construction costs have thrown wrenches into housing production at all income levels. Rent control has largely shut down new housing production in St. Paul.

For developers putting the financial resources in place to build affordable and accessible housing can be like putting together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. It’s not unusual for projects to have half a dozen or more funding sources cobbled together.

We appreciate the recent use of American Rescue Plan Act dollars in some communities to provide new affordable housing and renovate existing units. But those dollars were a drop in the bucket. They also were a finite resource.

We deeply appreciate our region’s accessible and affordable housing providers, especially those who advertise in Access Press. We just need more of you, more resources for you, and more of what you provide

Join Us! 2023 Virtual Legislative Forum: December 16th, 2022 - MN Council on Disability