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.


Spaz Girl said...

i go into the city a lot and have found a shocking lack of accessibility in of the many reasons why i don't think i'll ever be a real city girl.

Wheelie Catholic said...

This is a really important topic to talk about. There is such a lack of accessible housing, even though baby boomers as they age are also going to be competing for what's out there.

Never That Easy said...

We've just finished a very long housing search, and I agree completely: I was shocked at the lack of centralized information... with all the questions they ask when they are listing a house, how hard would it be to add things like "has bathrooms that are accessible" or "doorframes are X inches wide"? It was so frustrating that we couldn't know ahead of time whether or not a house had simple things - like stairs - that would cross it off of our list until we went out there and looked at it. It made the search that much longer and that much more difficult.

I wish you all the luck in your own search - may you find something that suits your needs ASAP.

Lisa said...

I qualify for "social housing" and in fact currently live in social housing.

It's still got 3 steps to get in and not enough room to swing a cat (which Betty's probably quite glad about) let alone move a wheelchair around.

Fortunately I was able to rent a garage directly opposite so I can leave my wheelchair in there (and it keeps my car safe from Blue Badge thieves).

My mobility, like the rest of me, is fragile though and although my flat is *just* accessible enough normally I do stuff like tearing a tendon out of a metatarsal and finding that I'm buggered.

If I ever break a leg (always a possible with OI) it's gonna lead to a *very* long stay in hospital.

M. said...

As awful this situation sounds, I'm really glad you've been able to find someone to help you out of kindness/empathy/compassion, especially in a job where it is often difficult to find.

Penelope said...

General update: I found a place. It's farther away from work than idea, but it's quite accessible and they've been very open to making what modifications I need (including cutting into walls) before my application is even approved. My agent is also planning on bringing up the problem with REBNY as she keeps thinking some of these places are violating ADA due to the level of accomodations that would be needed (places that need a short ramp to go up a 3" step, etc.).

Spaz Girl, I totally understand. Believe it or not, NYC is probably the most accessible place I've lived so I'm seeing less of a problem in comparison.

Wheelie Catholic, when we were looking at stuff my mother made a comment asking what people do when they get older in NYC. I pointed out that a lot of people in NYC who have limited mobility can't leave their houses.

Never That Easy, thanks for your support! As I put at the beginning of my comment I found a place so hopefully it will all be wonderful once I've moved in!

Lisa, I didn't mean to imply that "social housing" was necessarily accessible, but it's the only place I've found where access information is even mentioned. You can search and see what subsidised housing has wheelchair accessible apartments, but there's no database for anything else in NYC and no one has any information on it for the regular market.

M, my real estate agent is a gem. I had a pretty bad experience with the person I used a year ago so I've been shocked how helpful she is.

Kate said...

Glad I stumbled upon your blog! I am currently living in NYC for the summer in NYU dorms as I am merely an intern. I'll be graduating next year from college and am hoping for a job/grad school in the city. Any chance you'd be willing to give me the contact info of your real estate agent? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Penelope --

I work for one of the 6 NYC CIL's, CIDNY. If we are the ones who didn't return your call, I apologize.

It's great that you found such a good real estate agent and an apartment. I'm putting the information below in case it helps

The state operates an accessible housing registry online, at It lists vacant apartments mostly in subsidized housing, which doesn't mean that you have to be low-income. In NYC, subsidized housing can serve people with pretty high incomes.
The registry is not too user-friendly, and doesn't cover all the details of accessibility, but it's a start.

As far as qualifying for subsidized housing, assets don't matter, except for the income you earn on them. That's counted toward your total income. (These days it's likely to be pretty low.)

I'm not trying to be anonymous, but I'm not registered on this site- Linda

Kit said...

My girlfriend and I live in NYC and she broke her leg in an automobile accident at the beginning of the summer. Since then, we've discovered how inaccessible NYC really is.

She didn't even bother to ask her landlord to build a ramp for her wheelchair, since she's technically able to hop out of it, and go up the four stairs into her apartment on her butt. However, this leaves her dependent on others - she can only get in and out of her house when there is someone to carry her wheelchair into the house. The landlord even refused to remove the heavy metal outer door (which doesn't even have a working safety lock, so it's not actually for security!) which would have allowed my girlfriend to be able to enter and exit the building on her own, when using her walker.

Furthermore, I don't know if you have ever taken the NYC buses, but our experiences on them have been horrible, particularly with regards to equipment failures and bus driver attitudes (and the refusal of one bus driver to operate the lift so she could leave the bus, and she had to hop off it, while I grabbed her wheel chair).

New York City is not accessible-friendly.

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老贾 said...

hi Penelope , i am traslating your interview into Chinese on Full Circle .
I quite appreciate you and what you have done about OSS and Ubuntu.


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