Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Zealand program makes housing accessible so disabled people can live independently

From the Whangarei Leader in New Zealand:

Having his own place to call home has meant a world of independence and confidence for Willie Pivac (pictured).

A wheelchair user since 23 due to a tumour in his spine, Willie has been so desperate to not be a burden on his family that he considered living in a rest home.

But now he is living in a Whangarei Accessible Housing Trust house in Tikipunga, which is fully modified for wheelchair use.

The trust buys and modifies houses with an 85 percent contribution from Housing New Zealand Corporation and rents them to tenants like Willie at an affordable rate.

The trust has just won a professional excellence in social housing award from the Australasian Housing Institute.

It received the award for delivering support solutions for disabled people who have a lot of challenges in their lives.

Team leader Auriole Ruka, from CCS Disability Action, says the trust now owns eight houses in Whangarei that are all tenanted by people with disabilities.

The trust ensures disabled people can be as independent as possible and live in nice homes, she says.

Mrs Ruka says people with disabilities are often beneficiaries who can not afford private rental and have limited options for housing.

"We have a huge need," she says.

"The aim is for a person to be able to pay their rent, pick their own furniture, build relationships with their neighbours and just really have an ordinary life that we take for granted," says Mrs Ruka.

She says disabled people are now saying to them, "My life has changed because I’m living in this beautiful home."

Housing co-ordinator Barry Moore supports the people with their move, ensuring they are safe and know of the services available.

The Whangarei Accessible Housing Trust is now looking to buy more houses.

It has secured $214,000 from ASB Community Trust, which can be put toward another four to five homes with the help of Housing New Zealand.

Mrs Ruka says the first eight houses were funded with help from CCS Disability Action, because it was aware housing was an issue for disabled people.

Willie, 37, says having the home has given him freedom and made him finally feel like an adult because he doesn’t have to rely on his family.

The sickness beneficiary was living in Whangarei with his sister and her family.

Prior to that he lived in an Auckland group house with three others in wheelchairs, run by a trust.

"There’s not a lot in Whangarei other than rest homes and having your family look after you," he says.

Willie’s sister is still a caregiver for him, and his new house has plenty of room for all his family to visit.

When the trust bought the two-bedroom house – with sleepout – it was already modified with wide doorways, low kitchen benches and wet area shower.

Willie says he enjoys gardening with raised gardens, boasting plenty of tomatoes.
Eventually he would like to buy his house.

Willie’s only gripe is that the rent of $200 a week, while much lower than market rates, is still half of his benefit.