Imagine you or someone in your family is a wheelchair user. Perhaps you once had a job but you were in an accident, or that you had an illness that resulted in your being unable to walk. Because you were being treated for the illness or accident, you were unable to work for months, or perhaps even years. Now you are a person with limited income and are a wheelchair user. Or perhaps you are a single parent with a child who has severe disabilities, including the inability to walk, and as a result, you must stay home to care for your child.
Because of these circumstances, your budget was tight and you needed help to pay for rent. So, you applied for a Housing Choice Voucher several years ago and have finally reached the top of the waiting list and received your voucher. Now you must find a unit that does not have steps, has doorways wide enough for you or your child’s wheelchair to get through, has a bathroom that has grab bars and enough turning space for a wheelchair, as well as a kitchen that can accommodate the wheelchair.
If you need a one or two bedroom apartment, you find a unit in an elevator building that has no steps and the other features that would enable you to use and enjoy the unit. Unfortunately, the manager will not lease an apartment to you because part of your rent will be paid through the voucher program. Or perhaps you are the mother of several children, including a child who uses a wheelchair, and you need a three or four bedroom unit. You cannot find any apartment that does not have steps or the other features you need, despite weeks of searching.
One of two things happens: (1) You rent a unit that has steps and/or other features that make it difficult for you to live there (for example, you have to crawl into the bathroom because your wheelchair does not fit through the doorway or, if you are the mother of a child who cannot walk, you have to carry your growing child up and down the steps); or (2) your voucher expires and you have to return it.
Many people who are wheelchair users or have wheelchair users in their family experience the challenge of finding an accessible unit every day.
The following are examples of accessible features:
- No step entries, which includes ramp entries;
- Doorways that are wide enough for a wheelchair user to get through easily;
- At least one bedroom and bathroom on the first floor of a ground floor unit that has a no step entry or a unit in an elevator building that has a no step entry;
- Grab bars in the bathroom that are next to the toilet and in the shower/bathtub or reinforced walls that allow grab bars to be installed; and
- A turning radius in the bathroom and kitchen that is big enough for a wheelchair user to enter, use and exit these rooms.
Many low-income people with disabilities face issues like these every day, and yet are turned away from quality housing opportunities based on their source of income. Instead, Landlords with units that have all or some of these features should proactively reach out their local housing authority and find out more about the voucher program. By renting to Housing Choice Voucher holders who have mobility disabilities, landlords are not only helping to expand the pool of quality living opportunities, but they are improving the lives of individuals and families who desperately need help.
Associate Executive Director of FHEO Enforcement
Amy Wilkinson is the Associate Executive Director of FHEO Enforcement for Baltimore Housing in Baltimore City. Before accepting this post in May 2001, Amy Wilkinson served as the General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), where she managed more than 500 employees-located in 10 regions across the United States
She holds a J.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania.