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Spinal Cord Injury Update

Winter 2006: Volume 15, Number 1

 

Accessible & Affordable Housing: Is it out there?

Finding housing that is both accessible and affordable is a challenge many people with SCI encounter soon after injury. In frantic housing markets like Puget Sound, high demand and high cost of living have combined with the continued low interest rates to produce skyrocketing home and rental prices. This limited, expensive housing picture is even bleaker for individuals with disabilities.

Accessibility

All too soon after injury, people with SCI are forced to confront the accessible housing problem. Upon discharge from rehab-which may be only a few weeks after sustaining a life-altering injury-they must go somewhere, but the home they were living in is rarely accessible to them without some modifications.

Multilevel houses with stairs, narrow halls and small bathrooms that are typical of homes in this area will likely need extensive work. Families, with the guidance of rehabilitation based Physical and Occupational Therapists, often scramble to get the home ready for a family member now ambulating with a wheelchair. Since inpatient rehab stays are usually briefer than the time needed to renovate, the patient may need to go to a nursing facility until modifications are completed. Often such extensive renovations are required that the individual, or the entire family, has to relocate. But finding an accessible home to buy is also difficult and will probably still require some structural changes to meet the specific needs of the individual.

Those who were renting at the time of their injury will most likely need to find a new situation since rental units cannot usually be renovated. Again, a temporary stay in a nursing home may be necessary while family or discharge personnel search for an accessible situation.

The National Accessible Apartment Clearinghouse (NAAC) (800-421-1221; www.accessibleapartments.org , clearinghouse@naahq.org ) maintains the only national database of apartments with features for people with disabilities, listing more than 60,000 units in 47 states. NAAC is sponsored by the National Apartment Association and Clearinghouse services are free to all.

The Easter Seals Society ( www.easterseals.com ) can also help with housing questions and recommendations. In Washington State, contact them at 800-678-5708 (Seattle: 206-281-5700; Spokane: 509-326-8292).

Affordability

After an SCI, many people need to consider low income, accessible public housing. This is often a good alternative for individuals whose financial situations have changed drastically since their injury.

The Seattle Housing Authority
(206-615-3300; www.seattlehousing.org/Housing/programs.html ) accepts applications for accessible housing, although the wait for an accessible unit can be as long as two years.

The King County Housing Authority
(206-574-1100; www.kcha.org/lookingforhousing/lookingforhousing.aspx ) provides an array of affordable housing options as well.

Washington State office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
www.hud.gov/local/index.cfm?state=wa ; 206-220-5101; 877-741-3281) provides affordable housing options throughout the state.

Caregivers

Individuals needing a live-in caregiver after injury will require a larger home or apartment, which adds to the cost. If the caregiver does not need to live in but must commute regularly, location will be important. Moving to a more remote, rural area might reduce housing costs, but there may be fewer caregivers available to hire or willing to travel significant distances to come to the home. Furthermore, the longer the commute, the more likely traffic and weather will interfere with maintaining a reliable caregiver schedule.

Searching for solutions

Rehab facilities throughout the United States report that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find appropriate, affordable, accessible, and safe housing for newly injured persons with SCI. This is attributed to a number of factors, including increased housing costs and a decrease in governmental funding programs for people with disabilities. Many individuals, especially those who do not own their homes or do not have family nearby, are limited to adult family homes or skilled nursing facilities when they are discharged from the hospital. This is usually the least preferable outcome but reflects the reality of the housing and funding situation faced by today's disabled population. With enough support, persistence and luck, however, creative solutions are possible, as in the case of Seattle residents Aditya and Kees.

Kees is a 25-year-old male who sustained a C 3-4 injury over 4 years ago and after rehab returned home to his mother and stepfather's house. Kees is fortunate that his mother, father, stepfather and stepmother all worked together to get him home after his injury. The family purchased their current home after Kees' injury because it had a lower-level apartment that would be accessible to Kees and maximize his independence.

Aditya is a 22-year-old male with a C-5 injury. His choices were limited when he was discharged from Rehab less than two years ago, and he went to a series of adult family homes before meeting up with Kees and his family.

Aditya and Kees met through a mutual friend who knew about both their situations. When Kees' family purchased their new home, they thought that at some point they would like to rent one of the rooms to another individual with SCI. The lower apartment accommodates a shared living situation with three bedrooms, one each for Aditya and Kees and another for a live-in caregiver.

Aditya is a student at the University of Washington and Kees telecommutes from home working as a computer animator. Both men pay rent. Since they have very different schedules, a shared daytime caregiver didn't work for them, so each has his own weekday caregiver 40 hours per week. The live-in caregiver does not pay rent but fills in with care giving and performs varied chore duties.

Both Aditya and Kees have a safe, accessible and affordable place to live and feel it is a win-win situation. "There really are no cons in my opinion to this living situation, only pros," Aditya said. "By having a roommate who is also spinal cord injured we can socialize, share ideas and concerns, and obviously just hang out with someone who is a similar age".

Kees' mother, Suzanne, agrees this is a great situation for her son, her family, and Aditya. It has decreased Kees' dependence on his family because he and Aditya problem-solve issues on their own, and Aditya, who has more hand function than Kees, can push buttons and do other tasks that Suzanne assisted with in the past. Suzanne knows that other parents are sometimes hesitant to get full-time attendants or allow someone else to live in their home, but she feels this situation has benefited everyone involved.

What can you do?

While Aditya and Kees's living situation is unusual, it's a reminder that creative solutions are worth thinking about. Getting the word out through family, friends and healthcare providers that you are looking for an alternative living situation can open doors and create new opportunities. Attending events such as the monthly SCI Forums held at the University of Washington Medical Center can also be a good tool for networking with more people who might have advice, information or connections to help you find a housing alternative that works for you.

- Norma Cole, MSW, LICSW, and Cynthia Salzman, MHA