Lack of accessible housing pushes disabled Granite Staters to the brink of homelessness

Organization calls for statewide effort to fill growing need
Katy Phillips

Katie Phillips listens to speakers via zoom during the press conference for ABLE New Hampshire, a disability justice organization on Tuesday afternoon, December 14, 2021. Lawyer Tim McKernan (left) and Forrest Beaudoin-Friede listen in the background. (Geoff Forester/Concord Monitor)

Katie Phillips has a job. She is an active member of several nonprofit organizations in her community. She votes. As an independent, disabled woman, she would like to live in her own apartment.

But she said a lack of affordable and accessible housing in Southern New Hampshire has sealed her fate.

“I live an ordinary life in most ways except one: I am a 30year-old, employed, adult woman who is basically expected to live with my mother forever,” she said.

ABLE New Hampshire, a disability justice organization, held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to confront the growing dearth of homes for Granite Staters with disabilities.

An informal survey sent out by ABLE NH — which garnered more than 300 responses — found that 70 percent of both family caretakers and individuals with disabilities reported a need for access to accessible, affordable housing and 68 percent of family caretakers reported that their loved one is at risk of homelessness.

Lisa Beaudoin, executive director of ABLE NH, said without affordable and accessible housing, many disabled adults are expected to live with family members

That system has caused anguish and concern for the family members of disabled Granite Staters, who fear what will happen after they die.

“I lay awake at night worried about what will happen to him if we are unable to care for him,” one survey respondent wrote. “I fear him ending up in a nursing home or being trapped due to a shortage of support staff.”

“My adult son with developmental disabilities needs 24/7 support of a caregiver,” another respondent wrote. “I am nearly 70 years old and worry about his safety in the future when I die or am otherwise unable to care for him.”

Tim McKernan, the director of policy and advocacy at ABLE NH, said many apartments fit the accessibility requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but do not accommodate those with a developmental disability, rather than a physical disability.

Those with sensory sensitivities might need a building to be audited for sounds that could cause distress. Those with intellectual disabilities need an apartment layout that is simple, and easy to understand.

McKernan said universally accessible housing will become increasingly important as care for the elderly transitions out of facilities and into the home.

Solutions sought

Beaudoin said it’s hard to quantify how many units for disabled Granite Staters are needed — the federal departments responsible with tracking that number have done a spotty job of collecting data.

Beaudoin can say with certainty that about 16,000 Granite Staters are on a developmental disability waiver and the choices for independence waiver. The vast majority of those people live with family members, most of whom are older than 55.

The housing crisis extends beyond the housing for disabled Granite Staters. Beaudoin said there is a critical shortage of housing for care workers, and consequently a shortage of available home care workers in New Hampshire.

“Incentivizing low-wage, direct-care workers through better wages and retention bonuses will not be effective if direct-care workers cannot live affordably in proximity to their clients,” ABLE NH wrote in a letter to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.

The organization said they would propose a number of solutions at the New Hampshire Housing meeting on Wednesday.

Advocates say the state’s current qualified allocation plan, which is used to award low-income housing tax credits to building developers, does not do enough to incentive accessible housing. ABLE NH is pushing the state to adopt principles of Universal Design, which emphasizes the need for designs that minimize physical effort, are simple and intuitive, and tolerate error.

They will also ask the group to adopt zoning measures that encourage the development of workforce housing.

“A deficit of over 20,000 units cannot be addressed by creating a couple here and a couple hundred there,” McKernan said. “New Hampshire Housing can and must change the game by aggressively and consistently finding projects and innovative techniques.”

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