Posted: Jul 19, 2018
When C.J. Campbell moved back to Rockford 8 years ago, it was an uphill battle to find a place to call home.
“There’s a two year waiting list generally and its very limited apartments and generally the apartments are quite old and not up to ADA standards,” Campbell said.
That’s a big challenge for Campbell, who’s been using a wheelchair his whole life.
“I discovered that it’s very difficult to find accessible housing not just here in the Stateline, but everywhere in the United States,” Campbell said.
“Housing really is one of the biggest barriers people with disabilities face,” Eric Brown said.
Brown is an education and advocacy coordinator at RAMP, an organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities here in Rockford. Part of his job is working with people like Campbell who are struggling to find an apartment that fits their needs.
“Landlords are not thinking about the 20 percent of the population that is made up of people with disabilities, when they are buying these places and renting them out,” Brown said. “Are people able to get into the bathroom and go to the bathroom? Are they able to get into their bedroom? Is the door wide enough?”
According to RAMP, there are only a handful of private apartment complexes in Rockford that can call themselves completely accessible.That’s why Brown says many people instead have to rely on modifying apartments to fit their disability.
“The responsibility is on the individual with the disability to go to the landlord and make a request,” Brown said.
But just making a request is something Campbell said can be uncomfortable.
“If you keep asking for things that will bother a person in power, like your boss or your landlord, they can take away the things you need to live, which is why you see a lot of people stay silent,” Campbell said.
There’s also a catch, when it comes to getting an apartment modified.
Not only does the landlord have to determine whether or not the request is reasonable, it’s also up to the tenant to pay.
“[The] law is that the tenant has to bear the cost of making the accommodation, the landlord is required to allow the accommodation,” Paul Arena said.
Arena works on Rockford’s Apartment Association and owns rental properties himself.
“We frequently talk among our membership about accessibility issues and how to accommodate people when they make requests,” Arena said.
He also said a challenge landlords are facing is the number of older apartments in the Rockford Area.
“If you’re looking at it being truly accessible, I think it requires it be built that way or remodeled,” Arena said. “The typical bathroom wasn’t built wide enough to allow someone with a wheelchair to go in and out.”
But even Arena admits, Rockford could do more.
“It’s possible that we could work more closely… If they’re actually experiencing problems finding housing for people, we are certainly open to it,” Arena said.
That means sitting down at the table with organizations like RAMP and getting honest about what the disability community belies is an accessible apartment shortage.
“It’s a lot of having that conversation back and forth and landlords being open to having that conversation and knowing their rights,” Brown said.
An important conversation for people living with disabilities now and in the future.
“Your body will fail you, you will depend on accessibility one way or the other,” Campbell said. “It could happen through an accident or you could just get older.”
But for now, it’s a fight people like Campbell are not giving up on, to find the place they can call home.
“If you don’t fight for accessibility rights now, then you won’t have any rights when that day comes to you,” Campbell said.
Along with the Rockford’s Apartment Association, 13 News also spoke to the Rockford Area Realtors Association. Both say more new homes and apartments are starting to be built with accessibility in mind.