I am honored to have been elected as the Chair of the Disabilities Commission.
The stated purpose of the Disabilities Commission is to identify and recommend legislative priorities and policies for adoption or examination by the General Assembly in order to provide ongoing support in developing and reviewing services and funding related to Virginians with physical and sensory disabilities.
The Commission is charged with reporting to the Governor each year.
Obviously, the mission is broadly conceived and can apply to many areas of services and service needs of Virginians identified as disabled. The Commission has begun the work of developing an agenda, but has not yet prioritized its goals.
The Covid emergency has highlighted many institutions and services that our society and our Commonwealth take for granted and rarely evaluate on a fundamental basis.
We must take this emergency as an opportunity to do so in areas that are the basis for building a Commonwealth that lifts up all residents, leaving no one behind.
We know that adequate housing is a major part of an equitable society’s foundation — especially adequate housing for the most vulnerable populations.
Virginians with disabilities can be seen as vulnerable and we know are particularly in need of adequate housing. They must overcome multiple barriers in order to obtain accessible independent housing. The unaffordability of rental housing is a pervasive barrier to obtaining accessible and independent housing.
The cost burden substantially exceeds the commonly accepted guidance that housing should cost no more than 30 percent of an individual’s monthly income.
Despite strong Fair Housing protections in state and federal law, housing discrimination against people with disabilities is a continuing and pervasive problem.
In 2020, the General Assembly passed legislation making discrimination based on source income illegal, “source of income” is defined as a source that lawfully provides funds to or on behalf of a renter or buyer of housing, including any state or federal assistance, benefit or subsidy program. However, SSI and other financial supplements do not provide sufficient income to afford housing without a housing subsidy, leaving Virginians with disabilities open to income discrimination in an already limited housing market.
There is an insufficient supply of physically accessible housing in Virginia and a growing demand.
The growing demand is fueled by the fact that individuals with disabilities are increasingly living their lives in the community, rather than in institutions — which is as it should be — and is in response to federal and state policy actions.
This growing demand threatens to undermine Virginia’s constrained capacity to meet this critical need.
Lack of accessible housing is not the only barrier facing those with disabilities; discrimination is another real barrier.
Evidence suggests that housing discrimination, both overt and subtle, continues to limit the housing options available to those with disabilties. Current demographic and economic trends threaten to further strain housing resources.
Our Commonwealth must expand affordable independent living options as well as adopt state local policies and practices that encourage accessible housing development.
We must vigorously enforce our Fair Housing laws and hold violators of accessibility requirements accountable.
Now is the time and now we have the opportunity to act, and act boldly, to create “a life like yours.”