July 20, 2021 Max Gavenman

Accessible Housing Matters

Discrimination is being denied something because of something one has little to no control over. Our country faces many issues of this nature, many of which have come to light in the past year and a half – Black Lives Matter movement, hateful acts against Asian-Americans, etc. Discrimination is a terrible, hurtful habit that plagues this country, and ought to be abolished. 

Imagine a world where you have been diagnosed with brain cancer. There are three major ways you could pursue treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery), but regardless of the treatment you chose, imagine that the resulting disability is the same: a challenge with balance that makes you unable to walk from point A to point B, let alone stand without constant fear of falling. Because of this balance challenge, you and your doctor agree that for the sake of safety and well-being, you need to be seated in a wheelchair for as long as this lack of balance persists, which could very well be for the rest of your life. None of this is your fault; you did not invite this cancer into your brain, nor the balance challenge into your life.

Now, imagine that you are looking for a home in this disability world, what you look for in a home changes drastically as a result of your disability. Certain features of a standard home can hinder your potential life at the home. For example, your wheelchair-accessible home would need to be flat or include ramps at a wheelchair-suitable angle; there cannot be stairs. Also, consider the shower: a wheelchair needs to be able to roll right into a shower; homes tend to come with a shower with some kind/height of step to get in. Just think about getting around the house in your wheelchair. Take the word of someone who has been wheelchair-bound in the past: no wheelchair is easy to manage – even for someone who has been in one for years. What would stop you from accidentally ramming into and destroying your home’s walls? You may have had all the practice in the world with your wheelchair and may be super adept in terms of wheelchair navigation, but the fact remains that you have no control over your disability, nor your cancer, and accidents happen. Difficulties with challenges like these are only a few of the challenges that those in a wheelchair must consider when it comes to housing. Nonetheless, if the home you look at is not accommodating to your mobility needs, you are forced to stay away from homes like these on account of something that is not your fault – your disability.

There are certain fixtures in existence that can be placed in a home to make life in the home easier for those with disabilities. As I mentioned earlier, things like wheelchair ramps and roll-in showers can be added to the home. Disability-focused architects, like David Baker Architects’ Certified Access Specialist (CAS) Anne Riggs, design homes that are accommodating to those with disabilities through the building codes they are given. These specialists call these designs accessible features because they are built into the home’s design with disabled occupants in mind. 

When I (virtually) sat down with Anne, I asked her more about the kinds of things that she will build into the space, and she mentioned a measurement that is inputted into the building code called a turning radius.  A turning radius is specifically designed for folks in wheelchairs to put enough space between walls so that they collide with walls less frequently when turning their chair, which is an accessible feature put into the code that she would work from. Accessible Housing aims to help those with disabilities by including accessible features; Accessible Housing serves as a living space or home that those with disabilities can live in on their own (or with assistive care), and maintain functionality in society.

Now consider the fact that about ten percent of San Franciscans (94,000 people) live with a disability (“Disability In San Francisco | San Francisco Human Services Agency”). Ten percent; that is a staggering number of San Francisco residents. This on its own is a sad fact, but the same article also tells us that most of the residential buildings in San Francisco do not have any form of Accessibility because they were built before the standards came into existence, leaving about fifteen percent of residential buildings that include accessible features. That’s not a lot of wiggle room for Disabled-home-seekers to find a home, let alone the perfect one. How bleak their lives must be if they are forced to live with a crippling disability and are denied housing because of it. Looking long-term, however, rates of those at risk of disabilities are continuously increasing (Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Disability in America); we will get to a point where more than ten percent of San Franciscans need Accessible Housing, and there will not be enough in San Francisco.

Housing ought to be accessible to all, regardless of ability; not having it is discrimination at its finest, since those without disabilities are not limited by the accessibility features, and those with disabilities are. Especially since having Accessible Housing is possible, not having Accessible Housing discriminates against those who are unfortunate enough to live with a disability, since any average joe can occupy non-accessible spaces, whereas those with disabilities are denied living spaces simply because of their disability. It’s 2021; this ableist discrimination is unacceptable, yet it persists through few accessible units.



Disability In San Francisco | San Francisco Human Services Agency”. Sfhsa.Org, 2021

Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Disability in America; Field MJ, Jette AM, editors. The Future of Disability in America. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2007. 1, Introduction. 

Stay Up to Date

Get weekly updates with housing news, HAC updates, and more!