Affordable, accessible housing continues to elude people with disabilities

Jan 11, 2018

Credit freeimages.com/Jos van Galen

Some 2,000 Rochester area residents with disabilities are in need of housing.

And that number only reflects individuals who get services through one state agency, the New York State Office of People With Developmental Disabilities.  The overall need for affordable, accessible housing is even greater.

This has always been an issue, but it's become a bigger problem in recent years, as more people are interested in living independently.

"Either they are interested in moving out of the family home, or they are on a list for a group home and the group homes are not really an option for a lot of people any longer," says Janet Dreitlein, Community Housing Liaison at the Monroe Housing Collaborative. 

Individuals who want to live on their own within the community often encounter at least one or two major barriers. The first is income. Earnings for people with disabilities are often limited to a monthly social security check that can be as little as just over $800.  This prices potential tenants out of the market.

There is federal assistance available through H.U.D.'s Section 8 housing voucher program. Last September 23,000 people applied for the program in Rochester, but only 3,000 were chosen.

In addition, Dreitlein says Rochester’s existing housing stock cannot meet the needs of this population.

"If you look around and drive up and down the streets in Rochester, almost all of those homes have steps to get in. There are very few single story homes. There are very few ramped properties. In addition, there is very little money to renovate and modify those properties to meet people's needs."

The largest struggle is for those who have mobility issues. Only a very small percentage of affordable properties have fully accessible units, according to Dreitlein.  

"Some of the newer properties are a little bit more workable for some of those individuals because the doorways tend to be wider; the floorplans tend to be more open.”  Those properties can often accommodate someone who uses a wheelchair or a walker until they can find a fully accessible unit, she said.

Dreitlein doesn’t personally see housing discrimination as a major problem locally, aside from the income requirements themselves, though she has no doubt it exists. She said a number of developers are sensitive to people with disabilities and lower income.

This story is part of Dialogue on Disability Week, a partnership between WXXI and the Al Sigl Community of Agencies, in conjunction with the Herman and Margaret Schwartz Community Series.