This Woman Can’t Physically Leave Her Basement. Calgary’s Rental Market Gives Her Few Options

Affordable and accessible housing in short supply in the city Karina Zapata, CBC News
Posted: Dec 12, 2022

On most days, Terry Goss is trapped inside her basement suite because she can’t make it up the stairs.

A car accident 24 years ago, paired with back surgery that went sideways, left her with limited mobility.

She has good days, when the handrail is enough to get out. But on bad days, she can’t check the mailbox, pick up medication at the pharmacy or even get food delivered to her door – all because of the stairs.

“My heart sinks every time I can’t do the stairs,” said Goss, 55, who lives alone with her cat, Charlie, in Forest Lawn. “I’m a prisoner in my own home.”

Goss has been looking for accessible housing for years. But a severe local shortage of affordable and accessible housing means she hasn’t been able to find anything in her budget.

And she knows she’s not alone. Friends who live down the street are also stuck in their basement suite because of the stairs. Another close friend rarely leaves his house for the same reason.

When Goss reached out to CBC Calgary, we discovered it’s actually a widespread problem.

In a housing feasibility study last year, local housing provider Accessible Housing found there are 46,000 people in Calgary who live with a mobility-related disability and are eligible for low-income rental assistance.

But there are only 600 to 1,180 units, across five affordable housing providers, that accommodate them.

The rest live with family and friends or search for units on the private market – often settling for places that don’t accommodate their mobility needs, or they seek a bed among the elderly residents of Alberta’s continuing care facilities.

Research needed on affordable, accessible housing

Marni Halwas, director of fund development at Accessible Housing, says they did the study because “there’s lots of information on affordable housing. The missing component is there’s not a lot of information on accessible and affordable housing.”

The results?

“There are a lot of gaps and there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Halwas says that’s especially true because the number of Calgarians who have mobility challenges and are low income is expected to increase to 80,000 by 2041.

In Alberta, the provincial building code says that only 10 per cent of units in government-funded residential buildings are required to be accessible. But she says that’s a mistake because it costs less money to build accessible units than it does to retrofit them.

According to the office of the minister of municipal affairs, that building code accessibility rule was set in the 1970s and hasn’t been updated since.

The one dedicated building Accessible Housing was able to build – a 45-unit complex called Inclusio – is in high demand.

“We generally run at full capacity. The odd time here and there, there’s an opening, but with 45 suites in a city like Calgary, it’s definitely not enough,” Halwas said.

Living in continuing care facilities

It’s an issue that goes beyond Calgary, says Sam Mason, provincial accessibility co-ordinator with Voices of Albertans with Disabilities. Mason says Albertans who aren’t able to find affordable, accessible housing sometimes choose to live in continuing care facilities.

“They don’t have anywhere else that they can go where they can get the full-time care that they need,” said Mason.

That was almost the case for Teena Kingshott-Knight, who lives in Edmonton. She was diagnosed with neurosarcoidosis a year and a half ago, and has been using a wheelchair since.

“I need doorways that I can fit through. Right now, I’m currently sleeping in my dining room because I can’t get through either of the bedroom doors,” said Kingshott-Knight.

Her daughter and visiting health-care aides help her stay at home for now. But it was close.

“I’m 53 years old and [the hospital staff were] going to put me away in this facility. If it weren’t for my daughter, that’s where I would be.”

Waiting for a Christmas miracle

As for Goss, she has been learning more about housing options, thanks to friends who are hopeful she can find better living conditions.

She moved into the basement suite in February, after three months of searching for a new home. She used to live in an apartment she loved until her landlord raised the rent.

When CBC Calgary visited her in her home last week, Goss hadn’t left the house in three days. That morning, she says, she couldn’t shower because she couldn’t lift her leg into the tub.

Goss says if there was ever a fire in her suite on one of her bad days, “I would be cooked.”

At 55, she’s considering housing for seniors, if an organization can allocate a main-floor suite, and says she should hear back by Christmas.

“Oh, that would be the best thing ever to happen to me. No more worries about falling or getting stuck in the middle of the stairs,” said Goss.

Most importantly, she says it would give her independence.

On days when she has to leave the house but can’t get up the stairs on her own, Goss says she has great upstairs neighbours who try to give her a hand. Those same neighbours gifted her a dishwasher so she doesn’t have to stand and wash her dishes.

She spends a lot of time nestled up on her couch with her one-year-old cat, Charlie, enjoying the Christmas decorations set up by her grandkids.

And she says she’s keeping focused on the lessons that her grandma taught her – waking up every morning with a positive attitude, pushing herself just to the limits she’s learned over the years and keeping up with daily episodes of The Young and The Restless (her grandmother’s favourite).

“I’m not a quitter, so I gotta keep on trucking.”


Karina Zapata
Karina is a reporter/associate producer working with CBC Calgary. She was a recipient of the 2021 Joan Donaldson Scholarship and has previously worked with CBC Toronto and CBC North. You can reach her by email at

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