Disabled face housing challenges

Dan Roland

For several years – like so many others – my wife and I have been trying to find some affordable employee housing. It’s tricky. With my wife being a C-5 quadriplegic, it’s even trickier, and suddenly there are a lot less equal opportunities.Just to enter the housing lottery, we have to find something in the right category as well as something that matches our household size. On top of that, it must be accessible.In any lottery, able-bodied people lose out when a unit is in the wrong category, with the wrong amount of bedrooms.Disabled folks have the “bonus” of losing out when a unit is in the right category, but has no access; or the right amount of bedrooms, but has no access.However, thanks to the hard work of people in Congress in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the relentless local effort to fight for affordable housing, affordable disability-accessible units are now being built. This is an amazing thing!Since my wife and I can’t afford a Category 4 two-bedroom unit, we tried to apply for the cheaper Category 3 – three bedrooms together in co-ownership with a colleague and longtime local employee.Having seemingly met all requirements – a three-person household where everyone is employed and has lived here a long time – we were hoping to compete in the lottery.Unfortunately, existing guidelines prioritize households without a disability that have one or more children, including such families with a work history of less that one year in the community. A three-person household of longtime locals with a disabled person, but without a child, is given a lower priority than the newcomers with a child. (It’s hard to have children when you’re paralyzed).In applying for disability-accessible housing, the fact that Leah is paralyzed is in this instance completely being disregarded and ignored.Affordable employee housing is in short supply. Affordable employee housing with mobility disability access is a tiny proportion of short supply. When at 4 p.m. the lottery closes, once again two mobility-accessible housing opportunities will fail to serve the very intent of the program that has created them.These are the meager fruits of the combined work of representatives in the federal government, the endeavors of the people locally who work so hard to fight for affordable and accessible housing. Was the extra taxpayers’ money that went to make that housing adaptable spent for nothing?We are longtime locals dedicated to this community; we love our town. There is no other place in the world where life is so accessible for the disabled – forget the skiing, and forget the natural beauty. I reiterate that since this summer we have a town that is entirely outfitted with sidewalks with ramps. Now that is Aspen kicking butt!This town does so much to include everyone. Great programs like Challenge Aspen make it possible that people, regardless of their disability, can whiz along on the slopes in the winter or go rafting on the river in the summer and not be left behind by their able-bodied friends and families. On our trips away from Aspen we beam to be the inspiration for so many others, just because of those things Aspen empowers us to do and the reason why we want to be here.I’m no great letter-writer and don’t have all the fancy legal terminology. We’ve tried to get answers the past two weeks from officials and applied for a special review, yet nothing worked. For us it’s too late now, but if we want to invest in our community for future times, we need to review our laws. We cannot go through great efforts in making adaptive housing and not put them to use while there is a need.Remember: Disability can occur to anyone on any occasion in a town that loves to mountain bike and ski.Dan and Leah Roland are looking for affordable housing in Aspen.