Lincoln resident struggles to find accessible housing

Lincoln resident struggles to find accessible housing

Lincoln resident Tina Guenette Pedersen said finding wheelchair accessible housing has been an uphill battle.

LINCOLN – Tina Guenette Pedersen has survived cancers and strokes, but her greatest challenge yet has been finding housing.

Pedersen, who uses a wheelchair, has spent the last year searching for an accessible home.

Her landlord is selling the home she has rented for the past eight years, but her search for a new place to live began long before she was told she needed to leave.

Two years into her rent-to-own contract, Pedersen was left paralyzed after an outpatient surgery. The two-story home with a basement would no longer work for her, so she started searching for a place to move.

“There is nothing accessible out there,” said Pedersen, who runs the nonprofit RAMP, or Real Access Motivates Progress. The mission of her organization is to educate about and advocate for accessibility and inclusion.

“I’ve fought my way back after everything, but now I’m losing everything because there are no options,” the lifelong town resident said.

Part of the housing problem, Pederson said, is the lack of incentive for landlords to make their properties accessible. She said she’d like to see legislation passed to “give a reason for a regular landlord to spend the money to become accessible.”

Thirty years after the Americans with Disabilities Act passed ensuring access to buildings for people with disabilities, Pedersen said less than half of public spaces are accessible.

“How can we expect housing to be accessible if our businesses aren’t?” she asked.

Then, she said, there’s the lack of available housing on the first floor.

“If I live in an apartment building with an elevator it would be high-anxiety and high-stress. Elevators go down on a daily basis, never mind in a fire,” she said.

If she were to relocate to a manor or home for disabled people, she’d have to leave behind her 19-year-old son and four-legged companions.

“They think if you’re disabled that you don’t have a family,” she said. “I now have no option to keep my family together. I’ll have to rehome my rescue dogs. I’ve lost enough, I shouldn’t be homeless without a family and have to give my furbabies away.”

Under federal law, buildings with five or more units must have 5 percent, or one unit, of accessible housing. Those accessible units do not need to be held for a person who is handicapped.

Last November, Pedersen thought her prayers were answered when Habitat for Humanity accepted her application for a wheelchair-accessible house. She later learned that the organization did not have any available homes to flip or land to build on.

With only a few weeks to move, Pedersen said, “I have 19 realtors looking for me. We know we need a miracle.”

“People with a disability need long-term housing and to feel safe, but the sad thing is that no one has a right to housing in this country,” she added.

Pedersen, who lost the use of her legs due to a spinal cord injury during surgery, said, “we’re all one accident or surgery away from this.”

Her hopes were raised around the first of the year, when she was contacted by Habitat for Humanity to let her know they’d found her a home. When the world screeched to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, Pedersen’s hopes of housing were dashed again.

“Habitat doesn’t have the funding to start rehab on the house, which could push the project six months to a year,” she said. She is again looking for temporary accessible housing as the economy reopens.

“Where will a person like me find temporary wheelchair housing?” She asked. “I don’t know how long it will be until I’m homeless. Being immunocompromised, I can’t go to a shelter. I can pay my mortgage, I just can’t find a place to live.”

Local Habitat organizations are running on skeleton crews, she said, and are trying their best to keep up with the demand for affordable and accessible housing.

“So many people have reached out with stories about their struggles finding accessible housing,” Pedersen said. “We need to do better.”