Living with a physical disability presents a unique set of challenges when looking for housing. The conversation around accessibility becomes fundamental when considering individuals who rely on wheelchairs or have limited mobility, who cannot live in a residence where physical access involves stairs. Residential units are simply barrier-free or not. Home ownership often allows renovations to create a barrier-free home, but when someone is in the position of requiring rental housing, a Yukon tenant has limited authority on residential structures. Within Whitehorse, acquiring barrier-free rental housing is a strenuous task.
Able-bodied individuals who have experience navigating the Whitehorse rental market are not surprised to hear stories and statistics of units in disrepair, high prices, and landlords with questionable ethics. Private ads often contain discriminatory demands for the disclosure of a potential tenant’s relationship status, to outright stating that they will not rent to tenants reliant on social assistance. Individuals with physical disabilities face the same obstacles, but with the addition of requiring the limited number of barrier-free accommodations available.
In a snapshot survey of 31 apartments available in Whitehorse in March of 2016, only three residences were completely barrier-free.
Similar to many cities across Canada, Yukon’s capital is significantly comprised of buildings constructed in the mid-20th century. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Canada’s National Building Code began to review regulations for barrier-free construction and accessibility for individuals with limited mobility. This trend has resulted in the majority of the Yukon’s residential buildings to be inaccessible to persons with limited mobility. Further, in many cases, the barriers in question come down to one or two decorative steps.
In a snapshot survey of 31 apartments available in Whitehorse in March of 2016, only three residences were completely barrier-free. The remaining 28 had stairs, either to the entrance of the building or to the bedrooms within the unit. Only one landlord interviewed was open to the idea of the construction of a ramp, and only if the ramp was the financial responsibility of the tenant.
The three accessible residences were all within buildings that had elevators. The units ranged from $1,500 per month for a one-bedroom apartment to $2,600 per month for a two-bedroom condo rental. Utility costs were extra on all units. With the Yukon Bureau of Statistics identifying the average monthly rent of a Whitehorse apartment at $900 per month, the only barrier-free residences available fell into significantly higher cost categories. For an individual with an average income, and with the added expenses that come with having a physical disability, high rent becomes an additional obstacle in attempting to access suitable housing.
The Yukon Housing Corporation is the existing government organization that was created to address housing concerns in the territory. While the current Yukon Government has identified affordable housing as a priority, issues surrounding accessibility and barrier-free construction are not at the forefront of the conversation. While the Housing Action Plan website contains representative images of people with disabilities, the actual action plan fails to identify where the decision makers will take action to address issues of barrier-free accessibility within the rental market.
Landlords have little motivation to renovate their units into wheelchair accessible accommodations, as there are presently no subsidies or tax incentives to rent to someone with a disability.
The Yukon Housing Corporation currently offers two forms of resources for individuals seeking assistance. The first is a low-interest home renovation loan program available for both homeowners and owners of rental units. While this program greatly assists homeowners, landlords have little motivation to renovate their units into wheelchair accessible accommodations, as there are presently no subsidies or tax incentives to rent to someone with a disability.
Additionally, the Yukon Housing Corporation offers placement options within social housing where a percentage of units have been constructed with wheelchair access in mind. However, these units are only available to individuals over the age of 55, or who identify as low income. Unlike provinces such as Ontario, Yukon’s resources are not structured through programs such as rental allowances, landlord tax incentives, or even guidelines and information on rights and options.
Ashley Feasby is currently facing these accessibility issues. Her family is attempting to relocate to Whitehorse, but a member of her family requires their home to be wheelchair accessible. After contacting various government offices, Ashley was informed that only individuals who have resided in the Yukon for a full year are qualified for government accessibility resources. The official suggestion given was that the family member in question reside in a hotel for the year-term, before being qualified for social housing. Ashley’s family simply falls through the cracks.
The official suggestion given was that the family member in question reside in a hotel for the year-term, before being qualified for social housing.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed by Canada in 2007, and again in 2010. Article 9 of the Convention discusses the obligation of the state parties to take appropriate measures “to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.” The Article goes on to identify housing as a key area in which the signing states must identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers to accessibility.
The current state of Yukon’s available barrier-free rental housing and housing resources fails to meet reasonable standards to ensure peoples with disabilities have the opportunity to lead independent and equal lives. While no simple solution exists, the Yukon can look south to policies and programs utilized by the provinces, which make measurable differences in people’s lives and well-being.◉
Photo credit: Anthony DeLorenzo (CC)