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Snyder to set housing precedent

Sarah S. Chung

In its first step toward accommodating residents with disabilities, the housing board agreed Wednesday to hold a special lottery at the Snyder Ponds project for the disabled.

The particulars of how to run such a lottery have not been determined. But, last night, board members voted to give disabled applicants some kind of priority for one of the Snyder units.

Seemingly moved by the testimony of several disabled residents regarding the difficulty of finding accessible housing, board members decided that Snyder would set the precedent for future housing projects, which will include a percentage of handicap-accessible units.

Board members also agreed there will be special lotteries for those units, but if no qualified disabled person applies for a unit, it will go into the general lottery.

Of the 15 units at Snyder, one ground-floor unit can be fitted to American With Disabilities Act specifications at a “relatively marginal” cost, said project manager Lee Novak. Snyder is an affordable housing complex now under construction on Aspen’s east side.

At yesterday’s housing board meeting, area residents Sue Simmons and Jim Finch related the obstacles they face when looking for a place to live.

“I know housing is hard to find for everyone, but it’s 10 times more so for the mobily-disabled because of the lack of inventory,” said Finch, who currently lives in Basalt. “If an able-bodied person can find 10 possibilities in the classifieds, I might be able to look at one that meets my needs.”

Simmons, an Aspen resident for 23 years, recalled that when she became wheelchair-bound one summer, she couldn’t leave her Centennial apartment without someone to carry her down the stairs.

Suffering from a degenerative ailment, “within six months I went from running a marathon to not being able to walk,” Simmons said. She has been advised by doctors to not spend winters in Aspen but said, “I don’t want to leave. This is my home.”

It’s not that people with disabilities want luxuries that aren’t granted other housing applicants, said Simmons. It’s that some people simply need a little help to be able to do what others don’t usually think about – like maneuvering a flight of stairs, she said.

“People with physical disabilities just want to remain as independent as possible,” Simmons said.

While board members voiced no qualms about providing some specially equipped housing units for disabled individuals, how to best define “disabled” was cause for concern. The board agreed to use the federal definition as applied in the Fair Housing Act in order to avoid potential litigation.

But that definition: “a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities,” covers such ailments as: cosmetic disfigurement, speech impairments, heart disease, diabetes, emotional illness and alcoholism, housing officials noted.


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