The Search For Housing

As you probably know, I became disabled back in 2009. Today I’m still living in the same privately rented house I was then.

My current house is pretty decent on paper; it’s in a nice area, it’s close to good bus and rail links, it’s got a nice garden, a good kitchen and it’s plenty big enough for my partner & myself and our housemate. Sadly for me, it has stairs & steps galore. A set of stairs leads to our upstairs (and only) bathroom, steps lead down to our front door and steps lead out from the back. As we have a shower over a bathtub there is even a big step to be covered if you want to wash. I can’t really manage steps, lifting my leg up to go up a step (especially my right leg) pulls on my damaged abdomen and that causes severe pain. I’m sure you can see why this is an issue.

Back in 2009, when we first discovered my condition was permanent we started asking ourselves how we could go about moving to somewhere that wouldn’t leave me unable to wash without assistance as well as stranded upstairs on bad days and trapped in the house (as the wheelchair won’t climb steps itself) most days. I was, as I still am, unable to work and my partner had taken on a very low paid part time job with Royal Mail so he could balance his need to support me and his need to earn. We were not getting any ESA or DLA because of appeals and alike and we were only getting a tiny bit of housing benefit because of the way Birmingham City Council deals with couples (we sorted it after a 20 months of arguing).

Naturally we started looking at privately rented properties online to begin with. We just wanted somewhere which;

  • was on the ground floor or could guarantee working lifts – because there was no point moving to somewhere with stairs.
  • had level access – so I could get my wheelchair out front door and onto the street.
  • had a level access shower – I can’t bathe without a lot of help and it always causes extra pain so a walk-in shower would be ideal.
  • was in range of my GP, both of the hospitals I attend, my psychotherapist and my psychiatrist
  • had somewhere we could store my wheelchair – be it a garden we could put a secured shed in, a garage, a large cupboard in the house or a decent sized hallway.
  • ideally had a second bedroom so my partner could sleep when I was up all night with pain – but we were also aware how that would be a luxury a couple on less than £7k a year would ever be able to afford.

Of course we found nothing. Purpose built flats or expensive re-purposed buildings were the only ones with level access. Most of the ‘flats’ in our price range were a couple of converted rooms in a HMO (houses in multiple occupation) with steps all over and no where to store mobility equipment and more often than not no shower, let alone a walk in one. Any places which had walk-in showers described them as ‘wet-rooms’ which added an extra large price tag to the property. We quickly began to realise that accessible meant; spacious, purpose built apartment with storage space and a wet room and all of those things are pretty desirable to able bodied folk too. It didn’t talk too long to realise we were never going to find a 1 bedroom accessible home privately for less than £650pcm in Birmingham – which I assure you is pretty much double what we could have ever thought of affording at that point. Nowadays it’s about 1/3rd more than we could safely afford.

We spoke to someone from the council who explained that if we wanted to go on the council housing register we’d have no hope unless we applied at the same time to be on the disabled persons housing register. They also explained that we’d have no hope of being accepted onto that without being in receipt of DLA. So until my DLA came through we were stuck where we were.

The next step was calling Social Services and arranging for an Occupational Therapist to assess us so we could get some adaptations in our home.They kindly fitted us with grab rails in the bathroom, a toilet seat raiser, a extra banister on the stairs and a railing to help with the steps in the front garden. All of which made getting around the house a bit easier and have reduced the number of falls I have quite a bit but none deal with the problem of the severe pain caused by using stairs. Because we are in a privately rented property and I can walk (albeit with a lot of pain) we couldn’t have a stairlift put in so the worst of the problems with the house were left unresolved.

Eventually, in 2011 my DLA was awarded and we got onto applying for council housing. A fortnight ago (Jan 2012) we were awarded points and placed on the disabled persons housing register. Hurrah! Last week we got a call inviting us to go see an adapted property that would suit our needs and we naturally jumped at the chance to go see it.

It took three buses to get there and we soon discovered that it was in another area where whoever built it clearly thought lowered kerbs were optional extra they could do with out. The property was in a nice little cul-de-sac with a lovely community feel to it hidden away in a slightly rough bit of Birmingham. Looking at the building we could see it was two storey, but we assumed we were either a downstairs flat or that the building had a lift. The rep turned up and opened the front door and we were immediately greeted with this sight;

Needless to say it wasn’t quite what we expected from a level access home suitable for a wheelchair user… I stayed outside in my chair whilst my partner went to have a look around (because if it was really good we thought we could contact social services and ask about getting a stair/wheelchair lift put in). Where we need a walk-in shower this place only had a bath tub. Where we need wheelchair storage this place had none. It also was missing white goods and most of the sideboards in the kitchen too. You might not be surprised to hear that we turned it down. The housing rep who was with us was mortified to realise that we’d been sent to this property so kindly phoned the people responsible and gave them both barrels on our behalf.

The search is still on and I’ll keep you informed of anymore hilarious housing mishaps along the way.

 

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  1. But thankfully you seem to have a housing rep who is willing to go to bat. Hopefully you can keep working with them!

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