Achille Iolascon M.A.
As an organization which advocates for the rights of all people with disabilities, we at Westchester Disabled on the Move, Inc.(WDOMI) can vouch for the fact that the lack of affordable, accessible, and integrated housing options within the community remains the single greatest obstacle facing people with disabilities. Within the United States, as many as 2 million people with disabilities are homeless residing in homeless shelters; public institutions; nursing homes; unsafe and overcrowded board and care homes; segregated group quarters; or living at the home of their aging parents, often due to the lack of affordable and/or accessible housing.
Horror stories are heard and observed on a regular basis by Independent Living service providers regarding the chronic homelessness stemming from the chronic poverty issues facing our consumers. People with disabilities in New York State face a high rate of poverty; low-employment and wages; and high rent burdens all of which contribute to high levels of homelessness. Westchester County has one of the highest priced rental housing markets in the United States which has made it difficult for people with disabilities to find affordable housing. For most individuals with disabilities, their only source of income is Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which pays roughly $700 – $800 a month. For those individuals with disabilities who, in rare instances, do manage to find employment, they often receive low wages, generally the minimum wage.
Since SSI is significantly lower than the income of other prospective tenants, it is difficult for people with disabilities who are on such fixed incomes, on government assistance, or who have limited earning power to compete in the private housing market without financial assistance in the form of a rental subsidy. According to the national study Priced Out In 2014, a modestly priced one bedroom apartment in Westchester costs 160% of an individual’s monthly SSI check with the rates increasing every year. Reports also show that the supply and demand gap is widening: Since the year 2000, the number of extremely low-income households seeking housing increased 38 percent nationwide, from 8.2 million to 11.3 million, while the supply of affordable housing increased only 7 percent, from 3 million to 3.2 million.
In the event where housing does become available, individuals in need still face the hurdle of being discriminated against based on source of income as, however unlawful as it may be, many landlords find ways to turn away individuals with Section 8 vouchers or who are on SSI and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Furthermore, source of income protection does not apply to co-ops, condos and buildings with 6 or fewer units (unless the owner owns more than 1 such unit), so the inventory of affordable options available to people using Section 8 vouchers or SSI or SSDI as their source of income is already substantially limited further exacerbating the crisis. This is cause for great frustration as obtaining a Section 8 voucher is a long and strenuous process in itself which takes years of being placed on a long waiting list.
With the need for housing being so great, Yonkers is to be applauded for its Affordable Housing Ordinance which requires developers of new housing projects to designate 10% of the units as affordable housing units. Many sites that are in the Development pipeline are in the downtown area. The fact that these sites are located within walking distance of the Yonkers train station is also encouraging as all new affordable housing construction should be developed along public transportation routes as it is of particular importance to the disabled community. Much too often affordable housing units are built in segregated locations where occupants who do not or cannot operate their own vehicle do not have much access to transportation. Integrated housing options should be made a priority when constructing affordable housing as it is vital to individuals with disabilities remaining an active contributing part of society including allocating and maintaining employment.
In addition, most existing housing stock is not designed to accommodate people with disabilities, including mobility and sensory impairments which may come about as one ages adding yet another barrier to finding fair and affordable housing. The lack of accessible housing deprives people with disabilities of economic and social opportunities that are necessary to remain healthy, independent, and successful while living in the community, often leading to forced institutionalization. This is a most serious issue which must be evaluated closely as disability does not discriminate. Being able bodied must not be taken for granted as becoming disabled can occur to anyone at any given time. People with disabilities constitute one of the largest growing minority groups in the country.
NEWS FLASH: YONKERS IMPLEMENTS A DISABILITY SET-ASIDE IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING
As we consider all the hurdles people with disabilities face in finding housing, we at WDOMI have been advocating for a “set-aside” of accessible units within Yonkers’ affordable housing stock. We got the support of many City Council Members, Mayor Spano and the Yonkers Department of Planning and Development for a modest policy to set-aside 10% of all affordable units for persons with mobility and/or sensory impairments. Envisioned as an amendment to Yonkers Affordable Housing Ordinance, we were pleasantly surprised when the Department of Planning implemented it via regulation effective December 1, 2016. Our sincere thanks go out to Mayor Spano, Councilmembers Sabatino, Johnson, Pineda, and Larkin, Commissioner Wilson Kimball, and Deputy Commissioner Louis Albano for their support in making this a reality.
We are advocating as first hand observers of the housing crisis which continues to plague individuals with disabilities. The desperate need and market for affordable, accessible and integrated housing grows more critical every day and by taking such action, the City of Yonkers is taking major steps in assuring independent community living for many people with disabilities and seniors.