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Speaking Up About Accessible & Affordable Housing

New Hampshire citizens with developmental disabilities, members of advocacy organizations, and legislators gathered last month in Concord to discuss barriers when it comes to accessible and affordable housing in our state. The press conference, which featured speakers from New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities (DD Council) and ABLE-NH, focused on people with disabilities who are living with aging parents, a lack of housing in NH that is truly accessible for all, and Direct Support Professionals/Home Care Providers being unable to find affordable housing close to those they support. 

DD Council member Forrest Beaudoin-Friede said, “Living on my own is important to me. It is a matter of dignity. Tell me which other protected class of citizens are expected to live their lives with their parents.” Forrest, who has Down syndrome, has been an active part of his community in many ways through employment, community involvement, and friendships – and believes people with disabilities must be part of the conversation when it comes to housing in our state. 

Katie Phillips feels a similar way, “I live an ordinary life in most ways except one: I am a 30-year-old, employed adult who is basically expected to live with my mother forever.” Currently, she is living at home but hopes to move out someday to a place that is accessible and affordable to her.

Even those NH residents without a physical disability, like Sophie Kellam, worry about this issue – as they find themselves unable to welcome friends and family members with physical limitations into their inaccessible homes. 

[Photo taken by Alli Fam/New Hampshire Public Radio]

A Lack of Housing That Supports All Types of Needs

According to ApartmentList.com, a website that focuses on trends when it comes to renting and purchasing homes, over 15% of households in the U.S. include someone with a physical disability – yet only 6% of housing units (6.6) million are adequately accessible. The organization found, “if every accessible home was occupied by a household with a disability, there would still be 8.6 million households in need.” This means someone with a disability could find an affordable home in a great location but would not be an appropriate place to live because of its inaccessibility. The same report found only 20% of accessible homes are currently occupied by someone who has a disability – meaning people without a disability are living in homes that are accessible to all. 

For a housing unit to be accessible, it must have a bathroom and bedroom on the entry level or an elevator in the unit, no steps between rooms nor steps with grab rails, and an accessible bathroom with grab bars. The Fair Housing Act of 1991 mandates accessibility requirements for complexes of less than four units – however, the law doesn’t apply to complexes of less than four units, constructed before 1991, or townhouses. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination, it doesn’t help with the fact that there aren’t enough accessible houses/apartments. 

Director of Policy and Advocacy at ABLE-NH Tim McKernan said many apartments fit accessibility requirements from the ADA, but only accommodate those with a physical disability rather than a developmental disability. For example – someone with sensory sensitivities would benefit from living somewhere audited for sounds that could cause distress while someone with an intellectual disability would benefit from living somewhere easy to understand. People with developmental disabilities must be included when discussing accessible housing. 

Valerie Novak, member of the Center for American Progress’ Disability Justice Initiative who specializes in housing said newer buildings with updated amenities are subject to regulations that usually cost more, which then raises the housing price. These amenities cause the apartment/house to cost more, which when combined with a high unemployment rate – is a major issue. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for those with a disability was at 7.9% in Dec. 2021 while the unemployment rate for those without a disability was at just 3.5%. This will often lead to those with a disability living with aging parents and loved ones instead of moving out. 

ABLE-NH emphasized the worry many with a disability, loved ones, and advocates have when it comes to homelessness. In an informal survey conducted by the organization, data showed 68% of caretakers surveyed reported their loved one is at risk to become homeless. Lisa Beaudoin, ABLE-NH Executive Director, said now is the time to make sure funding for housing units goes towards those with disabilities. Recently, the organization submitted recommendations to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority. “Some of those recommendations focus on the Qualified Allocation Plan (a plan that determines which developers get the funding to build units in our state),” the organization stated. 

“ABLE NH wants housing projects to adopt universal design, which is housing constructed to accommodate all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. The group also recommends addressing the needs for support staff, and housing units onsite for them. ABLE NH also calls on the state’s housing authority to recognize the unique needs of people with disabilities and not to lump them into an incredibly broad population of “underserved populations and communities,” stated a recent New Hampshire Public Radio article. 

The growing concern surrounding homelessness in our state for people with disabilities is valid. The Journal of Public Health Management and Practice reported in 2019 that people with disabilities are disproportionately more likely to be homeless at some point in their life – with an inability to find appropriate housing as one of the main reasons along with high unemployment, and a lack of support. 

Consider the Caregivers

Caregivers must be included in conversations surrounding affordable housing. Studies show that our state, and the entire nation, continue to face a shortage of frontline workers. Low wages and a lack of affordable housing within proximity of those who they are supporting are two major reasons why. If the distance is too far from the person they are supporting, a caregiver may choose to find a job that is closer to their home. Supporting housing that is affordable will encourage frontline workers to remain at their job and continue to give support. 

There is plenty of work to be done when it comes to affordable and accessible housing throughout our state – but those with disabilities, parents, frontline workers, and advocates are taking a stand and speaking out about the topic. If you are interested in learning more about housing-related bills currently in our state’s legislature, visit legiscan.com/NH which gives readers a free and unbiased look at the bills currently being discussed in NH. 

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