Home found after 11 months in motel

 Dunedin disability advocate Chris Ford is delighted to finally have moved into an accessible...
Dunedin disability advocate Chris Ford is delighted to finally have moved into an accessible Kainga Ora home in South Dunedin, after 11 months in transitional housing. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD
Dunedin disability advocate Chris Ford is a happy man.

After 11 months in transitional housing — a motel in Kaikorai Valley — Mr Ford was finally able to move into a fully accessible Kainga Ora home in South Dunedin four weeks ago.

"It’s a great spot — nice and sunny, and quiet, and only a couple of minutes from King Edward St," Mr Ford said.

The two-bedroom flat was "accessible in all its various facets", and was close to shops, amenities, and public transport.

Once a couple of modifications were sorted out in the kitchen, the place would be just about perfect, he said.

Having a permanent and pleasant place to call home, after living in a motel for 11 months, is a great relief for Mr Ford.

A wheelchair user, Mr Ford works as kaituitui/secretary for the Disabled Persons Assembly in Dunedin, and is a member of the Access Alliance and the Dunedin Access for All Group.

Mr Ford’s housing difficulties began in mid-2019, when his then landlord informed him that he needed to use the rental property for family from March, 2020.

"Since then, I have been looking for accessible housing — a total of 18 months of searching," Mr Ford said.

Finding a place that could be lived in comfortably by a wheelchair user such as him had proven very difficult.

In addition, although Mr Ford works almost full-time, affordability was another major issue.

"The cost of living with a disability is higher than for the non-disabled community, and high housing costs on top of that are a significant barrier," he said.

As the months of homelessness stretched out, made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Ford turned to local politicians, the Salvation Army, and CCS Disability Action for help.

"Even with all those people working to help me, and I am very grateful for their support, it has still taken ages to find a home," he said.

Despite being concerned about the cost of having to use mobility taxis, Mr Ford was considering moving to Mosgiel when the Kainga Ora flat came up in South Dunedin.

"I leapt at the chance to take it — South Dunedin was the place I wanted to be," he said.

"The flat streets make it easy to get around in a wheelchair, and consequently the area has a good-sized population of disabled people."

In the four weeks since he moved into his new home, Mr Ford is already feeling settled and much happier, with his own things around him.

"Being in transitional housing is a challenging time for people — I saw people come and go, and others staying for a long time.

"I was fortunate to have good support networks, and to have my work to keep me occupied, but other people were not so fortunate."

Last week, along with fellow Access for All Group member John Marrable, Mr Ford organised and led a housing accessibility forum in the city, aiming to bring disability advocates together with those in power to discuss housing.
"The shortage of public housing that is accessible for people with disabilities is an absolute crisis," he said.

Disabled Persons Assembly New Zealand chief executive Prudence Walker said it was estimated that only 2% of the country’s housing stock was accessible.

"We have known for more than a decade that the number of accessible homes is nowhere near meeting the need, but no-one is doing enough about it," Ms Walker said.

At the end of last year, there were more than 1000 Kiwis on Kainga Ora waiting lists for accessible homes.

Plans to build 15% of new social housing using universal design principles were "woefully inadequate", she said.

"For generations, disabled people having been living in homes that are not accessible, let along being able to visit friends and family.

"Housing has such a big impact on people’s lives — it affects their wellbeing and employment," Ms Walker said.

The Disabled Persons Assembly is part of the Access Alliance, which is advocating for accessibility legislation for New Zealand across many areas, including housing.

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