© — File photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Affordable housing continues to be a hot topic in St. John’s and its surrounding communities, epecially for those with disabilities. This seniors’ housing project in Paradise, co-funded by the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp., is hopefully one of the ongoing solutions to the variety of housing issues.
Finding accessible and affordable housing is a daunting struggle for people with disabilities, even though the wait list at Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC) may not show high numbers, advocates say.
NLHC, one of the options for people seeking accessible housing, says around 10 applicants are on its wait list.
Advocates say that wait must be qualified by how long the people actually wait, whether they are reapplying each year if they don’t find anything, or whether they give up on NLHC and take what they can get, meaning an apartment in the private market not suited to their needs.
NLHC CEO Len Simms spoke about the wait list this week after The Telegram told the story of Peter Locke, who has been living in a 1980 van since June.
He has multiple sclerosis and other medical issues and is in a wheelchair. He was still searching Wednesday for an affordable accessible apartment.
There are 81 fully accessible units in the NLHC portfolio. Then there are the non-profit and private-sector units that have been funded through affordable housing agreements. Out of more than 1,000 of those across the province, 255 are fully accessible units.
“It’s a fair statement to say people with disabilities continue to struggle to find suitable units,” said Wayne Penney, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Centre.
The centre doesn’t have housing units, but helps people with disabilities navigate the system.
“From listening and talking to staff who have been here for years, there seems to be a disconnect,” Penney said.
“The staff experience here is they have been struggling significantly in helping people to find units that are accessible, and it continues to be the experience.”
Penney said that experience doesn’t seem to jive with the NLHC wait list.
Kelly White, executive director of the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities (COD NL), which deals with policy and advocacy and refers calls for services to the resource centre, said there are daily calls about housing.
“How can there be no demands?” she asked. “People are living in apartments that are not accessible because there is no choice. The other choice is long-term care.”
White said groups that help obtain the services need to know where the units are and when they become vacant, and there needs to be more communication to government about the need.
She also noted that there is a need to accommodate people who want to move to larger centres like St. John’s to be closer to medical appointments and other services and require accessible units.
Penney said that more thought has to go into universal housing models that fit all needs, including accessibility. And he said that goes not only for any rental market, but for any new home because besides aging, an accident or illness could change the homeowners’ needs.
“By 2013 you would think we would have learned it’s cheaper to build initially to be accessible than to renovate in 20 years’ time,” Penney said.