More accessible housing urgently needed in B.C., advocates say, with thousands already on wait-lists

·4 min read
Kyle Jacques says he has been looking for an accessible home for nine months.  (Baneet Braich/CBC - image credit)
Kyle Jacques says he has been looking for an accessible home for nine months. (Baneet Braich/CBC - image credit)

Kyle Jacques has one wish before his 29th birthday this month — to find an accessible home.

Jacques uses a wheelchair and has spent the past nine months looking for an affordable, accessible home in Vancouver. At his current rental, he grapples with everyday tasks such as getting his wheelchair inside the house, cooking a meal and using the bathroom.

"Some days I feel hopeless, other days I just keep pushing. I'm really trying to find something, but that's difficult," said Jacques, adding that he has contacted community groups and B.C. Housing for help.

Jacques is among thousands of people with disabilities currently searching for an accessible home in the province. While governments say they are taking new steps to reduce barriers, advocates say more universal infrastructure is needed to improve accessibility — especially as the province's population ages — and people with disabilities should be included in any decision-making.

Thousands on wait-list

An accessible home can mean having easy access to the building and common areas, individualized features like counter and window placement, door manoeuvrability, or specially designed appliances.

According to the B.C. Housing registry, 3,996 people living with disabilities are on a wait-list to find an accessible home. An additional 1,087 applicants require wheelchair modified units.

"Housing demand far exceeds availability across the province, especially for people living with disabilities," the housing agency said in a statement. It currently funds 3,242 accessible units across the province.

The Right Fit, a program which connects wheelchair users with accessible housing, says their clients need to wait years for housing and it is also noticing more demand, with 142 people currently on its wait-list.

The long waits are forcing some into shelters, says Paul Gauthier with The Right Fit.

"We're seeing more people with disabilities ending up in shelters, which is something that we've never really have seen in the past," he said.

Baneet Braich/CBC
Baneet Braich/CBC

He says the increase could be due to high housing costs, a lack of housing inventory, or that there are simply more people with disabilities.

Gauthier says clients have told him they hadn't showered in years because they haven't had an accessible bathroom, while others have said they've had to crawl along the floor to get to their bedroom.

"If you can't access the washroom, if you can't access your kitchen, you basically are not able to be fully living in your home," Gauthier said.

How can housing be more accessible?

Dan Duffy says it took him a long time to find an accessible home, eventually finding a place five months after joining The Right Fit.

Duffy, who uses a wheelchair, says his apartment — which has a roll-in shower, low cabinets and counters, and an oven that's higher up so he does not have to bend down — has been a "game-changer."

"I cook way more than I used to. It's a lot safer. I've had some burns and stuff on my arm from reaching over top of the stove at our last place," he said.

Dan Duffy
Dan Duffy

But he recalls how challenging it was trying to find a place, remembering how his partner "would come back and just be in tears because she couldn't find anything,"

Spinal Cord Injury B.C., which has an accessible housing marketplace that lists units for rent and sale, says lack of inventory is a major issue.

"It's like a cause for celebration when one goes up on our site, because they just are so hard to find," said associate director Jocelyn Maffin.

Google Maps
Google Maps

She says it's vital to develop more affordable and accessible housing as the population ages.

In Vancouver, there was a 16 per cent increase in residents aged 65 and older between 2016 and 2021 according to census data, the city said.

"We're about to see an entire generation have dramatically increased needs for accessible housing, and whether they'll be able to afford to create it for themselves," said Maffin.

B.C. Housing updating building code

The province says it's working to update the B.C. Building Code to make new buildings more accessible. The code governs how new construction, building alterations and repairs are completed.

It's also working on a new certification program reviewing all of its units built since 2019 to ensure they are either accessible or can be renovated easily.

"We know there's more to do to make buildings more inclusive and accessible, and we're doing that work now," the Housing Ministry said in a statement.

Advocates are also calling for more rent supplements for tenants and rebates for property owners to retrofit their homes as another way to decrease wait times.

B.C. Housing currently offers eligible low- and moderate-income households up to $17,500 in rebates to complete home adaptations with its Rebate for Accessible Home Adaptations program.

British Columbians with a disability are also eligible for $375 per month in assistance for shelter — but Gauthier says more support is needed.

"Deep subsidies are necessary," he said.