Handicapped advocates want more accessible housing | AspenTimes.com

Handicapped advocates want more accessible housing

Finding affordable housing is tough all around, but if you’re in a wheelchair there might be better odds of getting hit by lightning.

As the city becomes more wheelchair-friendly and programs like Challenge Aspen continue to expand, however, there’s a growing interest from disabled individuals in moving here.

But too often that interest is cut off in its formative stages due to the dearth of affordable, accessible housing, said Amanda Boxtel, co-founder of Challenge Aspen.

“I’ve spoken to quite a few people who would like to move here, but the hope of making a living and being able to afford to live here is very difficult because of the lack of accessible housing,” Boxtel noted.

“I know affordable housing is an issue for everybody, but someone in a wheelchair can’t just go to the newspapers and move into the rooms advertised there.”

Of the approximately 1,500 units in the Aspen area’s affordable housing stock, only a handful are designed for the needs of disabled individuals. Only 20 rental units at Truscott, Marolt and Aspen Country Inn are handicap accessible, according to the housing office.

But if there is a pressing need for more accessible units, those sentiments haven’t been relayed to Terry Kappeli, the housing authority’s director of property management.

“In fact, some handicapped units are being occupied by non-handicapped people because we can’t find the people to fill them,” Kappeli said. “But I do sense that lately there is more interest in accessible units.””

There are ongoing discussions about retrofitting up to four units at Snyder to be wheelchair accessible. But since the fixtures have already been ordered, if not already installed, making the change at this point would be costly.

“It’s a matter of tearing out something brand new to replace them for slightly more expensive fixtures,” said project manager Lee Novak, who is currently investing the cost of upgrading a unit at Snyder to accommodate wheelchairs.

“On a policy level there’s the question of spending the money then maybe not having someone who needs it fill it. At Benedict Commons we couldn’t fill the accessible unit so we ended up tearing it out for the person who eventually got it.”

But Boxtel contends that the problem of accessible units going unclaimed by those who need them is probably attributable to lack of communication rather than lack of need.

Presently there is no formal notification policy to the general public when accessible units become available, although Kappeli often contacts Boxtel on an informal basis when a unit is free.

The city and county have both been “very receptive” to listening to the concerns of Challenge Aspen in regard to the needs of disabled individuals, Boxtel said. But there needs to be a wider, more effective way to alert the community when an accessible apartment opens up, Boxtel said.

“If someone could create a formal list of inventory so we know what’s out there, that would be the first step,” Boxtel said.

As a whole, the city has been making strides toward making Aspen more accessible but there are some “realities” that disabled advocacy groups run up against.

“In a historic town there are people who are reluctant to put in ramps that they see as defacing the aesthetic qualities of a building,” Boxtel said. “We just want to be reasonable in our expectations of what can be done in a historic setting. We can’t have Disneyland and I don’t think anyone would want that.”

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