The need for affordable, accessible housing is growing
September 23rd, 2022
Thousands of disabled British Columbians are without accessible, affordable housing. A group of disability advocates led by Spring Hawes and Michele Rule are calling for local government candidates to take a pledge for accessible housing, and commit to addressing the issue.
We spoke with Michele about the barriers to housing disabled British Columbians face, and how policymakers and community members can make a difference.
What are examples of accessibility barriers in housing? Michele: Doorways, hallways, bathrooms, kitchens, stairs, outside accessibility like slope and stairs, and affordability are what we think of most often.
But people have various accessibility needs, so accessible housing needs to be as adaptable and as flexible as possible. Even things like being exposed to scents or specific lighting for people with those sensitivities.
It could also be having kids' rooms up or downstairs which doesn't work if a family member has a mobility impairment. It could be not having a place for a caregiver or family member to sleep. It could be not having space to park and charge a wheelchair or scooter.
How serious is the lack of accessible housing in BC?
Michele: Most of the current older stock is simply not built with accessibility in mind at all. Some newer stock has some accessible features, but not enough to really be workable. People only build accessible when they think the housing will only be for disabled people.
People with disabilities in Canada are disproportionately homeless, living in poverty, subject to drastically restricted housing choices, subject to housing discrimination and likely to live in substandard housing. This is especially the case for Indigenous persons with disabilities.
The situation is critical in BC. We know people are being discharged from rehab to shelters because their home is inaccessible. Seniors and disabled people are staying in hospitals or other facilities when they don't need to, simply because they cannot go home.
According to the 2020 BC Homeless Count, 36% of unhoused folks in BC report having a physical disability, and 44% report having a medical condition or illness.
The B.C. Housing registry reports a waitlist of over 5,000 British Columbians needing accessible housing, which is well over double the current number of accessible units they already administer, and they state: "Housing demand far exceeds availability across the province, especially for people living with disabilities."
What measures can policymakers take to encourage the creation of more accessible housing?
Michele: Local governments can use incentives like rebates, zoning, and density bonuses. They can work with the provincial government in support of making the BC Building Code safe, inclusive, and accessible. And they can prioritize, promote, and celebrate accessible housing.
Kelowna recently held a 'design challenge' in which developers and designers were invited to submit 'innovative' in-fill housing.
This would have been a huge opportunity to demonstrate that the city places value on accessibility, by rewarding plans that were accessible, or at the very minimum, having accessibility as a judging criterion.
However, accessibility was not a consideration, and the winning designs perpetuate inequality and inaccessibility.
What are you asking public representatives to do?
Michele: At the local level, acknowledge the situation, and prioritize accessibility in all new buildings. Work with the provincial government and advisory groups with lived experience to create better codes.
What can community allies do to support the cause?
Michele: Hold your elected officials accountable at all levels of government. Keep talking about accessibility to keep it top of mind. Encourage your friends to speak out. Share the pledge widely. Contact your local candidates and ask them to sign it.
Anything to add?
Michele: We need to remember that accessibility will eventually affect everyone, whether through a disability, a temporary restricted state, or aging.
Disabled people deserve homes just as much as non-disabled people. Let's start now to make sure these needs are met at the stage of construction.
Learn more about the Accessible Housing Pledge