Giving up avocado on toast won’t help wheelchair buy a home
Sitting in my car outside a ground-floor flat in Salford Quays, I felt my heart sink.
I hadn’t gone through the front door, the estate agent hadn’t even arrived, and I already knew my hour’s journey to view the property had been a complete waste of time.
The agent had assured me there was a single step and that I’d be able to use my portable wheelchair ramps to get into the flat.
Already, I could see there were not only multiple steps up to the front door, but also a large bush prevented me from putting any ramps in place. To add insult to injury, when the estate agent turned up, they asked if I needed to look inside before making an offer!
Although I’d had mixed viewing experiences before, this was the first time that I couldn’t even look inside a property.
This was the moment when I realised that finding an accessible home would be less than straightforward.
Not only is there a severe lack of accessible and affordable properties, but estate agents seem to lack any awareness of accessibility requirements.
Various commentators have claimed that if millennials simply gave up their Netflix subscriptions and take-away coffees, they’d easily be able to buy a house.
What frustrates me is that these arguments deny the reality of the situation. Private rents are so high that millennials are unlikely to be able to save for a deposit, while at the same time routinely being priced out of the market by investors. It is not merely an issue of changing one’s priorities.
A subset of millennials that get the worst deal of all is disabled millennials. They are often overlooked when it comes to discussions about the housing crisis, yet it has been estimated that 400,000 wheelchair users are living in homes that are neither adapted to suit their needs nor accessible.
There are 14.6million disabled people in the UK, on top of which there is an ageing population. By contrast, just 9% of homes in England currently provide the most basic accessibility features.
As a powered wheelchair user, even when visiting potential universities as a teen, a main concern was which ones could offer me suitable accommodation.
After lots of research, I was very fortunate that I found Selwyn College, Cambridge. I was reassured I’d be given a flat for my three years there, which meant I didn’t have to move all of my belongings and equipment out at the end of each term. The flat was gutted and fully adapted to suit my needs.
After graduating, I spent five years seriously looking for somewhere to live. I was working in Manchester and earning a decent wage, but having to find a property with two bedrooms (as I need a live-in personal assistant) meant that my money, whether renting or buying, would quickly be eaten up.
After a while, I grew tired of people asking me how I was getting on with my search. They were just taking an interest, but it only served to remind me that I hadn’t made any tangible progress. I felt like a failure.
People told me that I was being too fussy. I responded by showing them my criteria, which quickly silenced them as they had to agree there was nothing unnecessary on my list.
I was looking for a two-bedroom ground-floor flat in a relatively safe location, with a parking space for my vehicle, that could be adapted. I wasn’t looking for Buckingham Palace on a shoestring budget!
A big obstacle I faced was getting permission from landlords to make adaptations to communal areas. I had to secure any such permission before being able to make an offer.
On one occasion I missed out on a flat because I didn’t hear back from the landlord in time. Another time the landlord refused to allow me permission to get the communal doors made automatic, despite the fact that I would have been required to pay for the adaptation myself.
In my mid-twenties, another wheelchair user asked me if I had considered living in a care home, as housing options are so limited! Her matter-of-fact tone took my breath away, but now I see why she was resigned to the situation.
I didn’t imagine that, 10 years on from graduating, I would be living with my parents. Don’t get me wrong, there are many benefits to still living at home, but it feels like the independence I gained at university has been taken away and I’ve now reverted to my teenage self.
I stopped looking for an accessible property in 2018, due to a change in my circumstances and the overwhelming frustration I’d experienced over the previous five years.
I’m under no illusion that it will be hard to find a fully accessible home, but I am hopeful that when I restart my search, I will find one that can be adapted to my needs.
The government needs to take accessible housing concerns seriously and start addressing these issues in the UK’s housing strategy – and the time to act is now.
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