When Rosalie Dow moved into transitional housing in Australia with her two young children in 2013, she assumed it would only be for a couple of months. At the time, her son Mayer was two. He hadn’t been diagnosed with Coffin-Lowry syndrome yet.
Coffin-Lowry syndrome is a rare genetic condition characterized by craniofacial (head and facial) and skeletal abnormalities. Some people also have cardiovascular disease. Both sexes are affected by the condition. However, males typically experience more severe symptoms. Complications could include intellectual disabilities, hypotonia, seizures, and impaired speech.
Transitional housing is intended to be temporary. It serves as a bridge between homelessness and permanent social housing. For the family, who rely on Dow’s caregiver payment, this meant constantly renewing a three-month lease, always being on the verge of housing insecurity, and always waiting.
However, Mayer uses a wheelchair that the house can’t accommodate. His wheelchair doesn’t fit through the doorway, and there are stairs to enter and exit the house. The bathroom doesn’t have grab bars or a roll-in shower. The home can’t accommodate Mayer’s patient lift and doesn’t have air conditioning, which leads to an increase in Mayer’s seizure activity.
Dow first informed the Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) of the family’s need for accessible housing through her community housing provider Launch in 2013. In 2019, they were relocated to a second government-owned property in Melbourne’s inner north. After a year, Dow requested modifications.
DFFH informed Dow that the government would not make the modifications because the department’s policy on transitional properties was not to perform “works that are significantly more expensive than other options, such as a transfer of the person requiring the modifications to a more accessible dwelling.”
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 41% of households in public and community housing had at least one disabled family member. However, according to research conducted by the Physical Disability Council of NSW, 69% of respondents in social housing live in homes that are not appropriate for their needs.
Housing is essential for everyone. Those with disabilities should be able to live in an environment that meets their needs. Accessible housing allows disabled people to live the life they want.
Convery , Stephanie. “Uneven Path to a Decent Home: Australians with a Disability Face Battle for Accessible Housing.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Oct. 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/oct/06/dehumanising-accessible-housing-services-are-failing-those-who-need-it-most.
Convery, Stephanie. “’Holding Cell’: Melbourne Family with Disabled Son Stuck in ‘Transitional’ Housing for a Decade.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 27 Jan. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/jan/28/holding-cell-melbourne-family-with-disabled-son-stuck-in-transitional-housing-for-a-decade.
Pereira, Patricia Marques, et al. “Coffin-Lowry syndrome.” European Journal of Human Genetics: EJHG vol. 18,6 (2010): 627-33. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2009.189