We Need to Do More to Ensure Disabled People Have Secure Housing

As always, we come back to the same question. What can we do to change this paradigm? John Loeppky, For CBC Opinion
Posted: Dec 29, 2022

This opinion piece is by John Loeppky, a disabled artist and freelance writer/editor in Regina.

When I had the opportunity to buy a house in 2022, I expected some hiccups. I was, admittedly, sprinting as fast as my wheels could carry me away from the rental market.

I was moving three hours away, to a city I’d lived close to but never actually in. I was buying a house, built in the early 1900s, that a neighbour described as a character in the same way you describe a relative you don’t like that much at a family reunion. That “character” turned out to mean a $7,000 tree removal and a $5,000 air conditioner.

I was willing to accept these flaws. What I was, and am, struggling with is just how difficult it is for many of Canada’s disabled people to secure housing.

A June Statistics Canada report found that almost 45 per cent of disabled renters were paying more than 30 per cent of their income towards housing. Disabled people were just over six per cent more likely to be renters than the total population.

The data was from StatsCan’s 2017 survey. I suspect the housing crisis for disabled people in this country has only gotten worse since then. COVID and stagnant social assistance rates have magnified concerns for those in the disabled community. Much of Canada’s accessible housing options are connected to our welfare systems. Our country does not imagine us as home-owners.

I have made no bones about being privileged in my career as a journalist. To be among the less than 30 per cent of disabled people who own their home is not something I take lightly.

Even with all the right cards – and all the right supports – the ableism appeared. I was denied mortgage insurance – meaning that my wife would not receive money if I were to die unexpectedly. The reasons given? My disabilities.

I have a piece of paper, from an insurance company, that says that my death isn’t worth compensating. That my family should be put in a precarious position if I happened to pass.

I should have known this was coming. On that call, where they document your health history, they asked me when my last symptom of cerebral palsy was. They could not identify which category they should put me in as they made their risk calculations. I’m fairly used to being put in a proverbial box, but that limbo was a pretty clear indication that the end result wasn’t going to be a good one.

I was open, I was honest – I mean, I came out as mentally ill on CBC radio, so I am not prone to the easy way – and I was penalized for it.

When I shared about this, and the endless back and forth with various professionals throughout this process, a couple of people in my life started talking about insurance as a game of percentages. Here’s the problem: disabled people are always on the wrong side of percentages.

We always have one of the highest rates of poverty, of joblessness, of discrimination. Either we’re all tremendously bad at living, or the world is tremendously bad at adapting. I am not a betting man, but I’m going with the latter.

For disabled people, social media can be both a lifeline and a drain
So, as always, we come back to the same question. What can we do to change this paradigm?

That same StatsCan report brought to light that many disabled people are living in houses that need major repair and/or are not fit for purpose. That offers some places we could start.

We can call on developers and housing authorities to think of access as paramount rather than as a number of dwellings they are legally required to provide.

We can look at rentals and whether they are accessible.

We can mandate a certain percentage of new builds be accessible.

We could also go with a housing model, like in some areas of British Columbia that prioritize disabled people within housing co-operatives.

We can question the systems, including the banking and mortgage sector, that say a disabled life is less valuable.

We can begin to ask hard questions to which no answer is ever given.

Actuarial science can actually learn about equity and understand that just because someone has struggled – whether it be because of a disability or otherwise – they shouldn’t automatically be denied.

We can admit to the world that there are options we just haven’t explored.

Lastly, we can remember that home may be where we hang our hat – or clean our wheels, or take off our legs, or take off our neurodivergent masks – but it’s all for naught if we don’t make that housing less precarious. After all, many of us have shitty balance at the best of times.

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/opinion-john-loeppky-secure-housing-1.6698748