Rental Housing Lacking Accessibility
- A new report from Harvard finds that more than 7 million renter households have a member with a disability.
- According to the Census Bureau, about 57 million Americans, or 19 percent of the U.S. population have a disability, many of whom are senior citizens.
- The most common challenges associated with these disabilities involve mobility and difficulty with lifting or grasping objects.
- There are five features that are considered basic when it comes to accessibility.
- mobility, the most common disability challenge, it’s important to have a step-free entryway, a single-floor layout, and wide doors and hallways.
- grip, it helps to have door handles in the form of levers instead of knobs.
- not of average height or use a wheelchair, electrical controls such as light switches should be accessible from lower heights.
- While not every person with a disability needs all five features, only 1 percent of rental housing (about 365,000 apartment units) include all of them, according to the report.
- Since 1991, any new building with four or more units must include at least some accessibility features. But even new buildings often aren’t that accessible for the disabled and the elderly.
- While many offer one or two of those five features, very few offer enough to make them accessible for a wide array of disabilities.
- Of buildings erected in 2003 and later, only about 6 percent include all those features, the report finds.
- And of large multi-family buildings, those with 20 or more units, only about 11 percent include all the basic features.
- Very few single-family homes—which account for 40 percent of rental properties—offer accessibility features at all, and they’re not required to. And in some places, especially more rural locales, those are the only types of rental properties available.
- the stock of rentals for those with disabilities is already limited, and when apartments made with accessibility in mind don’t offer a wide range of features, that can make the pool even smaller for someone with specific needs.
- the over-50 age group has grown significantly in the past decade, making up more than 50 percent of all rental growth during that period. As this cohort ages, it’s going to be a problem that so few rentals cater to those who, say, have difficulty walking or suffer from chronic arthritis. Many of these people will be on a limited budget but won’t qualify for government assistance, limiting their options further.
- The task of making apartments more accessible isn’t impossible, but at the moment, there aren’t enough incentives to make it a priority to those who could have a hand in it: Landlords by and large won’t invest unless they are receiving federal funds in return for making these changes, and developers are held only to relatively small quotas when constructing new buildings. That means that in an apartment that isn’t quite a fit but is still up to code, the burden of making it accessible falls on disabled tenants and their families. And in a rental market that’s growing increasingly crowded and increasingly expensive, many can’t shoulder that cost.