Saturday, May 2, 2009

BADD: The Perils of Looking for Housing

I said I was going to write about my NYC housing search a year ago when I actually did it, however, obviously failed miserably.

The short version is that about a year ago, I got a job in NYC with less than a week to find housing before I started work. I went around with a real estate agent and found an apartment that wasn't going to work well, but was "good enough". I've spend the last year hauling my wheelchair up and down 5 steps to get in and out of the building. I knew I'd never make it past a year in this place, but it's what I could find. The real estate agent I used at the time also really didn't care about what I needed. He was looking for his commission, but enjoyed his playing games (one of which caused my mother to stand out in the rain for an hour and a half) to see how much he could really make out of it. He was not a good experience.

Throughout the past year I've been looking. And looking. And looking. I was wary of real estate agents a bit because the one I had last year knew nothing about access. I tried contacting the NYC CIL (no response) and as far as I can tell I'm in a weird no-man's land. I don't qualify for public housing benefits because I have too many assets. Those assets are in stocks so they don't count towards what landlords consider to be money that can be used for rent (landlords don't actually include assets at all, only income). And I make a low enough amount that if I didn't have the assets, I would definitely qualify for some of the low income housing in NYC. Luckily, I do have the assets and I have support from my parents.

The catch with looking for any sort of accessible apartment is that there's no list anywhere. I'm not just saying there's no list of available apartments, but that I have yet to find a list that tells me even where it's worth looking. I don't need full access. I can stand/walk a tiny bit, can't cook on my own for non-wheelchair related reasons, and come complete with my own shower chair and creative ways to get on and off toilets so that I don't need bars. I do need flat entry, especially as I need to move from manual chair to power chair (there are reasons power assist and scooters don't work for me) if I want to continue working much longer. And there's no way to tell flat entry without physically going to the place and looking. Databases do list things like "elevator building", but I'm in an elevator building now so it really tells you nothing.

Luckily, somewhere along the line I found a real estate agent who actually has taken me seriously. She has spent the past 2 days physically going around to buildings to look at whether they have flat entry or not so that I don't have to put what little energy I have for looking at places into doing that sort of work. She's been keeping an eye out for it since I contacted her a few weeks ago when taking people around, whether they need wheelchair access or not. And she's absolutely appalled by the lack of information. She has friends and family who also work in real estate and they've identified that this truly is a place where there's no information. Some of it is due to price (if I could afford $3000/month, I could get a studio in a new building that legally has to have at least some flat entry and accessible apartments), but mostly it's just information doesn't exist. She's quickly becoming the expert among the real estate people she knows on wheelchair access. (Anyone moving to NYC or in NYC who wants her name, feel free to e-mail me, she's given permission for me to give it out)

Today I go look at a couple apartments and if none of them work for me, tomorrow we go look at some more. So hopefully by middle of the week, I will know where I'm moving. But what's amazing is that she's allowed me to have options. Last year I didn't. And they're options on my terms, not based on half-assed research or assumptions. And it seems to be that this may be a beginning to more information for others with similar access needs as well. I'm certainly hopeful.