Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux has called out the development industry – and government – for not doing more to address housing accessibility issues.
As the featured guest in an online round table discussion hosted by the Surrey Board of Trade on Wednesday (Feb. 17) Cadieux – who has used a wheelchair since suffering a spinal cord injury at the age of 18 – said the industry is lagging behind public need for accessible residences.
“Out here in South Surrey, where I am, there are about 10,000 units of housing going in right now,” she said. “Not one is one I can even visit. I’m completely blocked from that market with my dollars.”
Cadieux said she and her husband conducted an experiment several years ago, in which they contacted all of the new housing developers that were putting up single family homes, condos or townhouses.
“We asked if they would modify a plan, at our expense, to be wheelchair accessible,” she said. “The answer, from all but one, was no.”
Cadieux said that while it was an experiment – and they had no intention at the time of taking the companies to the Human Rights Tribunal, or otherwise arguing about it – the exercise flagged, what she considers a “very real issue.”
“We, at some point, are going to want to move,” she said. “And there is nothing to move to.”
Recently appointed the BC Liberal critic for gender equity, accessibility and inclusion, Cadieux said she is looking forward to the NDP’s promised introduction of accessibility legislation, expected in March.
She hopes it will have much the same aim as private members bills on accessible housing she introduced a number of times when she was part of the provincial government.
While it’s evident that B.C.’s political parties are generally working toward the same thing when it comes to issues of accessibility and inclusion, she said, the reality for those with disabilities is that they feel excluded from the housing market.
“There’s a need to do a lot more. Some municipalities have done some work in this area. I would argue there is not any jurisdiction in Canada that has done a good job.
“That’s why I think it’s time for the provincial government to step in and set some guidelines,” she said.
“The reality is we aren’t building housing that works for everybody,” she said. “When we talk about accessibility and inclusion, it’s fascinating to me that, as a society, we recognize that people should have access to public spaces, but never (have) dealt with the fact that they may not have access to their own home.”
Cadieux said it also concerns her that governments and agencies tend to define the need for accessible housing – or limit that need – to government-subsidized housing.
“That would never be achievable, given that 20 per cent of the population has some form of disability affecting their mobility,” she said. “You’re not going to build and fund government housing for everyone.”
But Cadieux said that what needs to be recognized is that the first place that people need to be able to access is a home.
Requirements for that home, she added, will change at different points in life, depending on jobs, where people want to live or go to school, when people marry or have have children, or when they retire.
“Right now, for people with disabilities, they’re lucky to have a place that they can independently access at all,” she said.
“Most are living in accommodations that are not ideal, some even unsafe. But because of the cost of renovating and adapting existing housing stock, they are stuck. That means that a lot of people miss out on a lot of things.”
Cadieux said at least 60 per cent of the population with disabilities are financially independent, working and looking after themselves, but “want to be able to search for a home in the market like anybody else.”
“Ideally we look to build things that are accessible or adaptable, meaning that you don’t build three-storey townhome complexes where there are stairs to access all aspects of a home.
“It means you have to allow for parking – likely, if someone is using a wheelchair they’re also needing a van, which means you need somewhere to park that.”
Cadieux said that she hears push-back from some about why more wasn’t done when the BC Liberals were in power, and when she was part of that government – and acknowledges some frustration that wheels wouldn’t turn faster.
“Frankly, I was working on it,” she said, noting that she was trying to move forward accessibility and inclusion agendas even while tasked with other portfolios.
“Moving policy in government is a long process,” she said.
“While government can move fast sometimes – not always effectively – generally, it moves slowly.”