Saturday, January 3, 2009

Not in My High Rise

On about December 12, 2008, we found out that our local housing authority was about to redesignate some of their local high rises to senior only, essentially lodcking out people with disabilities from accessible subsidised housing. Their rationale ranged from young and old should not mix, to prostitutes are entering the highrise.

When our action team heard about the meeting from the director of our local CIL; we sent out an action notice encouraging everyone we could to attend the meeting to stop the proposal. We also sent the action notice to the local media. This article appeared in the paper the morning of the meeting.

Our combined work paid off. Despite the short notice about 30 mental health and disability rights activists turned out to challenge the proposal. I wrote the following buest editorial for the local paper, but they chose not to print it. So, i’m publishing it here.

You would think that public policy decisions would be based in fact. You'd be wrong.

The Springfield Housing Authority held a meeting on December 15, 2008 to discuss designating "senior only housing" at the Bonansinga, Hildebrandt, and Sankey high-rises. The move would essentially lock out people with disabilities, age of 62 or younger, from affordable accessible housing. Hildebrandt is the only one of the three high-rises that currently accepts people with disabilities under the age of 62. The board members' arguments to measure the worthiness of this decision is fundamentally based on innuendo and stereotyping.

In the July 2007 minutes, a SHA board member said prostitutes had been frequenting the Hildebrandt; and that teenagers are going in and out of the building at night. This same board member brought up redesignating Hildebrandt again, during the November 2008 meeting.

A second SHA board member said seniors did not feel safe; and that the perception "of not feeling safe" was the same as "not being safe." Not accepting people with disabilities under the age of 62, the SHA board member implies, would make seniors feel safer.

Yup, that's the rationale for making this drastic change and limiting independent living options for people with disabilities.

Luckily, the SHA still has time to consider its decision--based on facts. Here are a few to consider.

  • According to Springfield Police Department's Public Information Officer, they have received no calls from SHA staff or residents at the Hildebrandt about prostitutes: none, zero, nada. If this illegal activity is actually happening, why doesn't security at the building call the police to stop the debauchery? Secondly, if it is happening, who is to say a young person is calling prostitutes. Old men also are known to also avail themselves of such services.
  • A teenager going in and out of the building is no crime. However, the implication is that they are up to no good. If they assemble unlawfully, harass residents, or are somehow making themselves a nuisance, why isn't security calling the police to remedy the situation? No illegal activity should be tolerated; however, if they are there lawfully, why bring it up? Besides, who says these teenagers are there because of younger people with disabilities. Older people have grandchildren that visit, don't they?
The SHA board members' remarks smack of bigotry. If they said that residents of the high-rises felt unsafe because black people lived in the building, the bigotry would be evident. Saying it is people with disabilities cloaks the remarks, because society is not used to seeing people with disabilities as worthy of consideration, let alone as people with equal rights. We, in the disability rights movement, call it ableism.

Consider these facts too:
  • People with developmental disabilities have a 4 to 10 times higher risk of becoming crime victims than people without a disability.
  • Sixty-eight percent to 83 percent of women with developmental disabilities are sexually assaulted in their lifetime; that is 50 percent higher than the rest of the population. More than half never seek legal or treatment.
  • Eighty-one percent of people with mental illness are physically or sexually assaulted; and,
  • More than 85 percent of women with disabilities are victims of domestic abuse, in comparison with, on average, 25 to 50 percent of the general population.
People with disabilities are not criminals or deviants. Their presence alone does not jeopardize anyone's security.

According to the Illinois Assisted Housing Action Research Project, SHA needs to reflect on these facts too:
  • As of March 2006, IHDA had 4,889 accessible units and 19,631 adaptable uni in its inventory. Combined, this is approximately 1⁄3 of its current income-restricted units for the entire state.
  • Proportionally more persons with disabilities rent (32%) and are rent-burdened (60%) when compared to non-disabled (25% and 46% respectively).
  • More than half (52.7%) are for seniors or elderly only. When the state average of accessible and adaptable units based on Illinois Housing Development Authority's affordable housing inventory is applied to the entire affordable (subsidized) housing stock, they estimate at the high end that 7.5% or 8,466 units could be accessible and 30.1% or 33,977 units could be adaptable statewide.
  • While there are many older adults with disabilities (38%), the majority of persons with disabilities are between 20 and 64 years of age (52%).
  • About 15% of persons with disabilities in Illinois are veterans, which represents 24 percent (200,562) of all of Illinois' veterans that had been in active duty before 2005.
  • Nearly 30% of persons with disabilities had income levels below poverty in 2005 (<$19,999), which is considerably higher than non-disabled individuals (11%)
  • African Americans have higher percentages of persons with disabilities while Whites and Latinos have a lower percentage.
  • Based on emergency shelter data for Illinois, more than half of the individuals using shelters are identified as having a physical or psychiatric disability (about 24,000 people in 2003).
The agenda distributed by SHA for their informational meeting gives the impression that the board thought it would be easy to change the high-rises designation. They didn't count on 30 or so disability/human rights advocates showing up.Thank goodness they did.

It is difficult to imagine that in this housing climate the Board of the Springfield Housing Authority could even consider removing another building from its inventory of housing options for younger people with disabilities. In fact, the data shows that SHA needs to designate more accessible-affordable housing for people with disabilities. The strong turnout of advocates guaranteed that the needs of the disability community will not be forfeited without a struggle.

One disability rights advocate at the meeting defined what SHA was proposing as an "unconscionable" act. I agree.

1 comment:

Chuck Smith said...

That was very nice.

We have a couple of buildings who don't take in under sixty. One would think it would be against the law. Think I'll look into it. Wouldn't the fair housing act affect this?