The Right Fit: Matching wheelchair users with accessible, affordable homes

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Housing providers and co-ops can connect with The Right Fit to ensure their accessible units are matched with those who need them

Paulo Guerrero was 19 years old when a motorcycle accident left him paraplegic due to a spinal cord injury in 2018.  He now uses a manual wheelchair indoors and outdoors. When he was discharged from GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, Guerrero did not have an accessible home so he moved to his sister’s place and then lived with his parents, in a basement. The unit was small, dark, and had a set of stairs leading down to the entry. This challenging living situation started taking a toll on Guerrero’s mental health.

He began searching for an accessible home and found out about the Right Fit program through a staff member at GF Strong. The Right Fit is a multi-partner program designed to address the crisis in wheelchair accessible housing by matching affordable, accessible homes and independent living supports with people who need them in the Lower Mainland.

After an 18-month search for a wheelchair accessible unit, Guerrero moved in June 2020 into a two-bedroom apartment located in North Vancouver, close to his family. The unit has a fully accessible kitchen and a step-in shower. His move was made possible through a rental supplement provided by BC Housing. Right Fit navigator Dalton Finlay helped Guerrero obtain the rental supplement and supported him in all aspects of the housing search.

“As a wheelchair user, I often did not think of what I needed so the Right Fit was a huge help because they offered suggestions on what the unit should have, like adequate room width or kitchen counter height,” Guerrero said.

British Columbians who need affordable wheelchair-accessible housing often wait years to find a suitable home. Some confront the frightening prospect of homelessness. Others are stuck in care facilities or unsuitable housing, denied basic amenities like bathing, or forced to forego job opportunities in a community that has no housing vacancies.

BC Housing Registry data from 2017 shows 450 applicants waiting for wheelchair-accessible housing in Metro Vancouver. Half were living in Vancouver or Surrey and 65% had annual income below $20,000.

The demand for affordable wheelchair-accessible homes in Metro Vancouver far outstrips the supply. Housing providers and co-ops are sometimes unable to find wheelchair users to fill vacant accessible units at short notice. Many potential candidates need extra support to navigate various processes to secure services like home care, income supports and customized equipment before they can access housing. Housing providers and co-ops may also have multiple eligibility filters that exclude some applicants. Other gaps include the lack of a centralized hub for listing and finding wheelchair-accessible rentals, and the need for common standards to document and communicate specific accessibility needs such as roll-in showers or extra space to maneuver electric wheelchairs.

As a result, when accessible units become available, they may be used to meet urgent housing needs for other individuals or families who do not require wheelchair accessibility. These scarce units are then lost for the long term, further aggravating the housing crisis for wheelchair users.

Launched in 2017, the Right Fit offers a streamlined service delivery model to connect indoor wheelchair users with affordable housing. Disability Alliance BC oversees the Right Fit Program, and the Individualized Funding Resource Centre is responsible for client management.

Supported by the federal Reaching Home Homelessness Initiative, the City of Vancouver’s Renter Office Grant program and BC Housing, the program is grounded in a case management model where a team of “project navigators” assists a rolling caseload of wheelchair users in finding appropriate homes, along with the personal supports they need to live independently. Project navigators help landlords and co-ops find the right tenant for their units within a short period of time. The Right Fit has also implemented a standardized Accessibility Checklist for assessing the wheelchair accessibility of living units. The Right Fit program has currently over 100 wheelchair users waiting to be placed in accessible housing units in Greater Vancouver.

Guerrero, who recently celebrated his 22nd birthday in his new home, is now putting his life back together, taking steps to get his driver’s licence re-issued and looking for a job. “I love living here. It is a positive change.”

For more information about the Right Fit Program, contact: Isabelle Groc, Right Fit Coordinator at rightfit@disabilityalliancebc.org. Follow the Right Fit on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheRightFitProject

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