'Accessible condos in Toronto don’t exist'

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‘Accessible condos in Toronto don’t exist’

Renting in Toronto is extremely challenging right now. That's especially true for anyone looking for affordable housing that's also accessible.

Doug Buck and Kate Chung outside their apartment. Photo by Tannara Yelland

Doug Buck and Kate Chung outside their apartment. Photo by Tannara Yelland

Kate Chung and Doug Buck have been trying to find an accessible condo to live in since Doug’s hip surgery briefly left him unable to get around their apartment. They’ve grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of accessible housing in the city, which they note affects not just seniors, but anyone with mobility issues as well as their friends and family.

Kate: Fifty per cent of all the units in new buildings that got their building permit since January 2016 have to be “visitable.” Not inhabitable. And to them [the building code], “visitable” means you can get through the door in your wheelchair, you can get into the living room, and you can use the washroom. So you couldn’t live there, because you can’t get into the bedroom or use the kitchen. So that’s crazy. There’s still no housing for people who are in a wheelchair or in a walker, because it’s the same problem. So we’re trying to change that; we have a campaign. We want everyone in the whole province to write to their MPP, and tell them to change the bloody building code to require that 100 per cent of all new apartments and condos have to be barrier-free. Universal design—because that covers eyesight problems, hearing—[is] standard now, thanks to [disability activist] Dave Lepofsky, that your elevator tells you what floor you’re at. That kind of thing.

Accessible condos in Toronto don’t exist. If you go to the sales office of a new condo, and you speak to the salespeople, they don’t know what you’re talking about. The crazy thing is that developers won’t build [with accessibility in mind] because they say it costs too much. But in fact, it costs less than one per cent more if you do it from the planning stage. But if you try to renovate, it costs a fortune.

My mother is in assisted living in Nova Scotia, where her apartment is wheelchair-accessible. She’s not in a wheelchair, but she has a walker. And you know, if they can do it in Nova Scotia, they can do it here. Seniors’ places here are not accessible.

Doug: I was on a walker for, I don’t know, a few weeks after having hip surgery. The door to our apartment is fairly narrow and it can’t be widened, because it’s sandwiched between the door to the next apartment and the stairwell. So it can’t be expanded. And the doorways to the bathrooms, they’re even narrower.

Kate: What using the walker made me realize is how vulnerable we are here, and that this apartment is just not accessible. Doug’s 80-years old now. So we’re worried we’ll never find anything.

Doug: Imagine if you broke your back or had a stroke or whatever.

Kate: Riding on your bike, you get hit by a truck.

Doug: You could lose your job, you could lose your home. So all of a sudden, you have no income and you can’t go home. And those people are either stuck filling up a hospital bed for thousands of dollars a day, or being sent to a seniors’ home.

Kate: Well, no, not a home, long-term care, which the government’s wailing about the cost of. But if everybody had an accessible home, a lot of those people wouldn’t be in long-term care. And they wouldn’t be locking up beds in a hospital. They’d be at home. With home care, if it really existed.

Doug: Home care is a lot cheaper than the government subsidizing your living and feeding you in a hospital.

Kate: I keep saying, how can I have home care if I don’t have a home? If politicians are complaining about the cost of home care, why don’t you just pass a law to change the building code so that all housing—new, just new, apartments and condos, we’re not talking single-family homes—so all apartment buildings have to be universal design? And then people could come home from the hospital. A relative of a friend of mine went into hospital because of diabetes, and they took off his leg. Totally unexpected. He couldn’t go home to his seniors’ apartment because it wasn’t accessible, so he’s in long-term care now. That is just ridiculous. Seniors’ apartments should all be accessible. All apartments should be, but seniors, you’d think they’d have caught on.

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