Affordable Housing Victory

The Westside Center for Independent Living (WCIL) is pleased to announce that its advocacy efforts led to the adoption by the California Tax Credit Allocation Commission (CTCAC) of new regulations that will expand affordable housing opportunities for people with disabilities throughout the state. The Commission is the primary funder of new affordable housing in California and has contributed to the development of over 300,000 units since 1987. Over the past 10 years approximately $7 billion in investor equity has been funded through state tax credits. Each year CTCAC funds approximately 14,500 new dwellings and these must remain affordable for at least 55 years.

Last year, WCIL contacted leadership at the Commission and recommended a series of policy changes that served as the basis for the new regulatory provisions. These new policies will increase the number of accessible units, ensure that these units are made available to the individuals that need these features, and provide new housing opportunities for people who are transitioning from skilled nursing facilities into the community.

For projects receiving a CTCAC allocation this year, approximately 725 new affordable units will meet strict standards for accessibility by individuals with mobility impairments.

Another 290 new affordable units will have communications devices that will assist people who are deaf, blind, or have hearing or vision disabilities. In 2014 and beyond, these numbers are set to double.

Additionally, the Commission adopted a new design standard that is called Enhanced Accessibility/Visitability and this must now be incorporated into 50% of the units that are designated for seniors. If these standards are applied in other projects, the proposed developments will receive additional scoring points in the competitive application process. Compared to existing state standards, Enhanced Accessibility/Visitability means wider doorways, wider halls, more accessible bathrooms and a minimum size for master bedroom of 120 square feet so that when a queen bed is placed in the room, there is at minimum 36 inches of space around the bed.

Too often in subsidized housing projects, fully accessible and affordable vacant units are offered to people without disabilities. Under the new proposal CTCAC will require property owners to provide priority for people with mobility and sensory disabilities. Vacant accessible units will be offered first to individuals that reside on the property and that need the unit’s specific features. Second, owners must offer the accessible unit to the first household on the waiting list with mobility or sensory disabilities.

Affordable and accessible housing opportunities are needed for residents in skilled nursing facilities who have the capacity and desire to live in the community. Many people living with disabilities have needlessly wound up in long term care facilities without the freedom to choose, without privacy, and without resources to explore independent living options. CTCAC has now expanded its definition of Special Needs, identifying as priority projects, those in which at least 50% of the units are developed for individuals living with physical or sensory disabilities and transitioning from hospitals, nursing homes, development centers, or other care facilities. Also included as eligible for the Special Needs funding set aside are projects that serve individuals living with developmental or mental health disabilities.

WCIL expresses its appreciation to CTCAC as well as the other organizations that supported these significant policy changes.

Educating Public Transit Agencies

The WCIL Advocacy Action Group embarked on a series of meetings to bring about changes in the policies and practices of local transit agencies:  The Group presented a list of recommendations to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro), the Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines (Big Blue Bus) and the Culver City Bus Lines (Culver City Bus).

One focus of the Action Group has been to educate policy makers about the needs of people with invisible disabilities who depend on public transit.  People often think the term, disability, implies that the individual needs to use an assistive device such as a cane, crutch, walker or wheelchair. According to the Invisible Disabilities Association, nearly three-quarter of Americans who live with a severe disability do not use such devices.   People with invisible disabilities may have symptoms such as pain, dizziness, and weakness that make access to seating for people with disabilities very important for them.

Each rider has the responsibility to request the accommodations that he/she needs.  However, many in the Action Group reported that such requests were too often ignored.  Recommendations to the transit agencies included the following:

1. Bus drivers should pull the bus up to the curb even when they don’t see anyone with a wheelchair or cane.

2. Bus drivers should be reminded to lower the ramp when requested and not just for people with visible disabilities.

3. Bus drivers should not prohibit people with non-visible disabilities from exiting at the front door of the bus when this might be necessary for them.

4. The bus should not move before the person with a non-visible disability has been seated.

In some instances, the agency needed to clarify its policies and in other instances, the focus is now being placed on improving the training program for bus drivers.   Another proposed approach was the use of “mystery riders” who would test in the field how bus drivers respond to people with non-visible disabilities.

WCIL’s Advocacy Action Group provides a vehicle for consumers to play a direct role in changing systems so that they better address the needs of people with disabilities.    The goal is the elimination of economic, social, attitudinal, and environmental barriers people with disabilities face in their daily lives.

Meetings are open to the public and WCIL encourage interested consumers to attend and give voice to their concerns.   Moreover, these meeting are designed to develop leaders who can bring the perspective of people with disabilities into a wide range of policy making processes.