Accessible rentals prove hard to find

Disabled Persons Assembly kaituitui-liaison worker Chris Ford is struggling to find accessible...
Disabled Persons Assembly kaituitui-liaison worker Chris Ford is struggling to find accessible housing in Dunedin’s tight property rental market. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD
People with disabilities are struggling to find accessible homes in Dunedin's tight rental property market.

Among them is Dunedin Disabled Persons Assembly kaituitui-liaison worker Chris Ford, a wheelchair-user, who has been searching for months to find a new home.

Mr Ford has lived happily in his Kaikorai Valley home for nearly 19 years.

With a wet-floor shower area, railed toilet, lowered benchtop, wide hallway, and relatively large rooms, the house has been perfect for his needs.

"I have loved living here for all these years,'' Mr Ford said.

However, since his landlord gave him verbal notice in June that he wanted to use the house for family members, Mr Ford has been searching.

Mr Ford received written notification last month, to vacate the house in February.

"I'm not unhappy about that. My landlord has given me very good notice, and he understands the situation that I'm in,'' he said.

"I am really appreciative of the way I have been treated.''

Being on the open rental market searching for accessible housing is proving a challenge.

Mr Ford has spoken to dozens of people, put the word out online, placed flyers on noticeboards, contacted local MPs and CCS Disability Action for help.

The tight rental property market has caused rents to skyrocket.

"Putting my feelers into the private rental space, I have found there are virtually no accessible properties, and when I have come across suitable spaces, the pricing is totally unaffordable,'' he said.

"It is obvious that the housing crisis has grown.''

Mr Ford knows of others in the same position locally, and many more nationally.

"I'm just one of thousands of people nationwide who find it difficult to find accessible and affordable properties.

"And it is my view that there is a need for many more accessible houses and for universal design principals to be mandated across all Kainga Ora [formerly Housing NZ] stock, not just a percentage.

"Housing for groups who find it difficult to access the private market should be a priority.''

CCS Disability Action Southern general manager Mel Smith said housing was a difficult issue for many people with disabilities.

Dunedin's hilly topography and ageing housing stock created increased accessibility challenges, she said.

Under the CCS Disability Action umbrella, Lifemark advises developers on building houses using universal design principals - spaces that can be easily altered.

Lifemark general manager Geoff Penrose estimates1%of New Zealand housing stock is accessible, while at any given time 7-15%of people require some modification to their homes to live comfortably.

"And as the population ages, there will be more people with mobility issues, so building sustainable housing will be increasingly important,'' Ms Smith said.

Dunedin Mayor-elect Aaron Hawkins, speaking last week as chairman of the Mayor's Taskforce for Housing, said the council had committed to using universal design standards in any new builds for public housing.

It was something for landlords to consider also.

"Ultimately, it comes down to building more houses, whether it is government, council, private developers, or community housing organisations,'' Mr Hawkins said.

• This week, Mr Ford will view an accessible private rental property and has been notified of another Kainga Ora property which could be modified. He and others with disabilities would welcome information on accessible properties in Dunedin. 



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