Alberta woman calls accessible rental situation in the province ‘dehumanizing’

Click to play video: 'Calgary woman desperately seeks accessible housing after rental sold'
Calgary woman desperately seeks accessible housing after rental sold
A Calgary woman forced out of her accessible house by the hot housing market is desperately seeking another place to call home. As Tomasia DaSilva reports, she and others are calling on the province for change. – Jun 14, 2022

A Calgary renter being forced to move out of her home at the end of June is speaking out about Alberta’s “disheartening” accessible housing options.

The 26-year-old has a disease called spinal muscular atrophy which requires her to use a motorized wheelchair. She moved to Calgary from Saskatchewan a few years ago to go to university. Taylor said she had amazing accessible accommodations at Mount Royal University as well as an apartment after getting her degree.

A couple of years later she found her most recent house and that’s when she said she knew — she was home.

“It was just perfectly accessible for me,” she said. “There was a ramp, a yard for my service dog. I absolutely love it. It’s been amazing for me.

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Taylor said the landlord offered her family first dibs, but they just couldn’t afford it. That’s when she started looking for a new place.

“I have not been able to find even a single listing that would be my bare minimum.”

Read more: Calgary renters say bidding wars and ‘gouging’ are leading to desperate measures

Taylor added she has even offered to pay out-of-pocket for any upgrades, but said she has been turned down every time.

“I offered to pay to switch the bathroom to make it accessible for me and they said no, that it would be too expensive for them to return it back to normal after I left.

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“It feels very dehumanizing to be told what I require to take a proper shower is not the norm.”

She also said many landlords appear to have issues with her wheelchair and her service dog — not responding once she mentions them.

“I’ve had to turn to not disclosing I’m in a wheelchair, not disclosing I have a service dog,” she said sadly. “And just trying to request a showing so I can at least get in front of the landlord.”

Accessibility rental issues

Accessibility advocates told Global News, finding a space to call home if you have a disability is incredibly challenging right now.

“We, in the industry, know that there are not enough spaces, we know that,” Stacey Stilling, executive director of Accessible Housing Calgary, said.

Stilling said governments are building affordable and accessible housing, but not fast enough. She also pointed out provincial building codes only require 10 per cent of any new or renovated government-funded residential project to be fully accessible.

As for private, large builders, she added that a recent study showed accessible units only made up about five-to-ten per cent of the buildings. Stilling said she wished more builders would adopt the accessible model, adding it can actually increase the home’s value by about 15 per cent.

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As for accessibility being a luxury, Stilling said she disagrees.

“I would argue that accessibility is not a luxury for anyone who needs it or is supporting someone,” she said. “It’s definitely not a luxury.

Read more: Affordable housing task force clears 1st hurdle at Calgary city committee

Municipal & Provincial response

Global Calgary reached out to the city and the province for a response about concerns over accessible rentals.

City officials said the city monitors and inspects buildings included in the provincial building code to ensure they are following the rules. It also has design standards — but only for city-owned buildings.

Scott Johnston, press secretary for Alberta Municipal Affairs, told noted that “of the nearly 36,000 housing units in the Alberta Social Housing Corporation’s portfolio, 14 per cent — or nearly 4,800 — are accessible to those who need extra care and support to deal with their physical disabilities.”

Johnston added that efforts will continue to ensure new projects comply with the building code.

Shailynn Taylor and service dog Atrej desperately seek a home to call their own. Tomasia DaSilva

Those options will likely come too little, too late for Taylor. She could go to a group home in Calgary but told Global News that is not an option for her.

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“My body is challenged,” she said. “My mind is not.”

Instead, she is preparing herself mentally to give up her home, business and most importantly — her independence and move back home to live with her parents in Saskatchewan.

“I’m tired. I’m frustrated,” she said.

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