Board member since: October 12, 2016
Board member since: October 12, 2016
Hello my name is Nikki Diaz. I am a 49-year-old woman who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and have been in a wheelchair all of my life. I have been living independently and on my own since I was 19 years old. Up until recently I did not find the task of being independent so difficult and there was very little hardship.
Making an SSI check stretch for 30 days while paying rent was not as difficult as it is now, the economy was much different.
In 2002 I married a wonderful man who took on becoming my primary caregiver which established our lives on a fixed income with what he made for taking care of me and my SSI. In October 2015 my husband fell gravely ill. He suffered a massive heart attack which left him in a minimally vegetative state and living in a nursing facility. His illness left me in a financial desperate state. Then I began my housing dilemma.
I lost my husband’s income which was over 75% of the household income, left again on just SSI. I had three weeks to relocate my residency because I could not afford the next months rent so with the economy the way that it is I found myself unable to find a place to live so my mother took me into her senior housing apartment. We moved furniture around, I put most of my belongings in storage and I lived with my queen size bed, two dressers and my computer desk in her small living room. We managed to survive for 11 months that way. But during the 11 month stay I encountered a housing threat. The company that owned this complex sent my mother a 3-day cure or quit notice. It stated that if I did not move out on my own immediately within three days that she would be threatened with an eviction notice herself. Little did they know that I had been searching for an apartment on my own since April 2016, their notice was given in September 2016. I discovered in that short time through many applications submitted, many apartment unit viewings, that the housing climate wasn’t prepared nor adequate enough to accept my special and unique circumstances. Finding accessible housing turned out to be an absolute no-win situation. I encountered too many steps that led to the front door, or a bathroom doorway that was too narrow for a wheelchair to fit through, or a kitchen that was architecturally designed so tucked tightly into the corner of the unit that short of cutting out a counter space or otherwise removing the refrigerator all together I would not be able to have any access into the kitchen. I even had an experience where a landlord had to move her car out of the garage so that I can get up into a very high one step that led into the kitchen because that was the only access into the unit. Coming down to leave the unit after viewing it was so difficult that my caregiver and I almost fell to the ground. Needless to say, that landlord rejected my application. I wouldn’t want to put myself in a potential liable situation either if I were a home owner renting my home.
I discovered that there are many obstacles in our housing sector for a person who uses a power wheelchair. For example, without one having proper finances for transportation using public transportation to get to and from searches for housing is extremely difficult. I recall a hot summer day when it was 102 degrees outside I and my caregiver had to wait outside for an hour in the parking lot of a gas station for my public transportation ride to arrive. I chose the gas station because it was the nearest address to the unit I went to visit. Because of the situation I exhausted my sparingly saved funds on renting wheelchair vans so that we wouldn’t experience that again. Due to my toilsomeexperience in the Housing search I’ve come to realize that there were no available assistance for someone in my specific and unique housing needs. Needs that the public are extremely uneducated about. Needs that without proper organizations and government regulations homeowners are not enforced to surrender to as landlords ultimately leaving the challenged renter like myself, to make major sacrifices and do without in very basic ways such as bathrooming, entering and exiting a property, proper heating and cooling conditions which without those particular needs met could have a major medical effect on a disabled person’s health and daily independent functionality. Just to name a few of the challenges I endured.
Although I did make it through and finally landed me a fairly safe rental I did not do it without the supportive help from my friends at CALIF (Communities Actively Living Independent and Free), an Independent Living Center based in Los Angeles serving a community of disabled people of 50 zip codes. I can say I am proud to recently have been voted in as a member of their Board of Directors.
CALIF rose to my need when I couldn’t make a “same day” viewing appointment to a rental of my interest. Their Housing Rep came to my aid as she went out to visit rentals in lieu of me. When my finances became tied up in payroll for caregivers and I couldn’t afford my security deposit, CALIF financed a small loan to me free of interest to satisfy my move-in expense.
We need organizations like CALIF. We need CALIF to have access to the resources and funding they’ll need to accomplish their efforts in our housing crisis in regards to disabled people. They proved to be a genuine example of what it means to bring inclusion to the presence of my community of people by providing support and not a hand-out which respects our freedom to accomplish independence. They are a complete embodiment of collaboration and compassion. They know we are a people with real responsibilities, we have spouses and children, mortgages and rents, jobs and businesses, dreams and goals atop of our extra challenges. They accept that we want to get our lives done on our own competent terms yet we need assistance. I am grateful for CALIF and I not only hope to see this service grow but I plan to be a part of advocating for this type of service in efforts to make it catch on!