Ren Vanwagner, 63, who lives in Vermont, struggled to find housing. She was living in a nursing home due to the lack of accessible housing available in the state. Her legs were amputated after contracting sepsis, and she now uses a wheelchair. The first night she was in her apartment, she slept in a rocking chair.
Vermont’s housing crisis has been felt widely, but not equally. For someone like Vanwagner, searching for a home can be even more complicated, with an already limited pool of housing options made even more limited by accessibility requirements.
Peter Johnke, deputy director of Vermont Center for Independent Living, a non-profit organization for individuals with disabilities, said that the housing situation for people with disabilities was already dire. It has gotten worse as a result of the overall housing crisis. However, there wasn’t enough accessible housing, to begin with.
According to US Census Bureau data, the statewide rental vacancy rate was 4.2% in the third quarter of 2022, up from 2.4% in the previous quarter. Chittenden County’s vacancy rate is consistently decreasing, which was recently projected to be less than 0.4%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 8% of Vermont residents have disabilities that affect their mobility.
Some federal regulations, notably the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, require new or renovated housing to fulfill accessible standards. State law additionally requires that all residential structures built after July 1, 2001, except for owner-occupied single-family houses, have one or more entrances that are at least 36 inches wide, first-floor interior doors that are at least 34 inches wide, and at least one restroom that provides for the future installation of grab bars. Elevators are required in buildings with four or more stories, and buildings with four or more units must have accessible entrances to at least one apartment and 5% of all units.
However, much of the available housing in the state predates these regulations. According to a Vermont Housing Finance Agency report based on US Census Bureau data from 2014 to 2018, approximately 75% of Vermont’s housing stock was built before 1990. Even modern housing sometimes falls short of the legal criteria. According to a 2017 report, 10% of new multi-family housing had “significant noncompliance issues,” and 70% had minor issues, according to an audit carried out by Vermont Legal Aid’s Housing Discrimination Law Project.
Accessible housing is hard to find throughout the United States. Apartment List conducted a study in February 2020 utilizing data from the American Community Survey and the American Housing Survey. According to the report, just 9% of households with a disabled family member reside in an accessible house. Furthermore, only 6% of homes in the United States are accessible. However, more than 15% of households include a physically disabled member.
Everyone deserves a place to live. People with disabilities have the right to live in an environment that meets their needs. Accessible housing allows disabled people to have more independence and live the life they want.
Skillman, Kori. “For Vermonters with Disabilities, the Search for Housing Is Even Harder.” VTDigger, Vermont Journalism Trust, 26 Nov. 2022, https://vtdigger.org/2022/11/24/for-vermonters-with-disabilities-the-search-for-housing-is-even-harder/.
Warnock, Rob. “How Accessible Is the Housing Market?” Apartment List , Apartment List, 19 February, 2020, http://www.apartmentlist.com/research/how-accessible-is-the-housing-market.