Last September I received a call from my landlord informing me that he planned to sell his house, where I am a tenant, and that I had 30 days to move out.
“What? Not again,” I thought. I had only been living there for 10 months. I couldn’t believe I was being pushed out of yet another place I called home.
Back in January 2014, my previous landlord sold the building that my family and I were living in. It took me almost a year to find a new apartment because I have a disability and I need a wheelchair-accessible home. When I finally found, with help from the nonprofit organization Wheeling Forward, a one-bedroom apartment in a private house, it wasn’t perfect; I had to put a ramp in my bedroom because it is a step down from the rest of the unit. And there was no room for my family, so they had to find their own place.
Still, it was home. But now, it seemed, I would have to start all over again looking for an affordable, accessible apartment.
We live in a great city, but one thing is for sure; it is very difficult to find affordable, accessible housing. Ten months have passed and I am still looking. I have contacted many real estate agencies and I have family and friends looking for me as well. I find real estate agencies very difficult to deal with. They want you to have a certain income and great credit to even show you listings. Even with two part-time jobs I can’t meet the real estate agencies’ requirements. I have also put in applications at a few apartment buildings, only to be placed on their waiting lists. I never thought finding an accessible apartment could be this hard.
I have applied through NYC Housing Connect, which is an important resource, but which has its disadvantages. It’s a housing lottery with very specific requirements. To be considered, you must meet their income and household size requirements. They prefer New York City residents and you may get a preference if you have a mobility, hearing, or vision impairment, if you currently live in the Community Board District where housing is available, or if you work for the City of New York. Even if you meet all of the requirements though, because Housing Connect is a lottery, you may or may not get called for an interview.
In addition to Housing Connect, low income New Yorkers with disabilities can apply for affordable, accessible housing on the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) website. Waits are long so this is not a near-term solution. However, it is worth applying to get on the waiting list if you plan to live in New York City for the foreseeable future.
People with disabilities do have rights
In the midst of all of this turmoil over my personal housing situation, I attended a Fair Housing Symposium that the New York City Commission on Human Rights hosted this spring. I sure got a lot of information. I learned about the rights I have as a person with a disability when I need housing accommodations and about the different type of housing programs New York City offers.
Under the City’s Human Rights Law, someone with a disability has a right to request that reasonable accommodations be made to his or her new or existing home. The City’s Human Rights Commission has a Law Enforcement Bureau, where anyone can file a complaint if they believe they have been discriminated against. As ICS COO Regina Estela recently reported, last year the Commission received more disability-related discrimination complaints than those for any other category.
If you believe you have been discriminated against in seeking housing or that your current landlord is acting in a discriminatory way because you have a disability, the first step is to call 311 or visit 311 online to file a housing discrimination complaint. The Human Rights Commission Enforcement Bureau will conduct an investigation and, if they find there is cause to believe discrimination took place, their legal team will get involved. If the facts point to discrimination they will file a lawsuit against the landlord to compel them to follow the law and, in some cases, try to recover money damages for the person who was discriminated against. Most of the lawsuits the Commission files are settled by negotiation between the Commission and the landlord.
I am still living in my home, where the landlord wants me to move; he hasn’t yet sold his house. He understands the difficulty I am having finding a new home but has been very persistent about the fact that I need to leave. Another nonprofit organization, Wheels of Progress, has been trying to help me again, contacting building owners, and asking them to rent me an apartment, as well as assisting me with my Housing Connect applications. And I have spoken with a lawyer I was referred to, who assures me that my landlord cannot throw me out without taking me to court first.
I am hoping through this ordeal that I will eventually find an accessible home that I can live in for the long term. I pray to God that, once I am resettled, I won’t ever have to again go through what I’ve experienced these last three years.