Part 4 of 4 ' Special report: Neighborhood blight

A car accident and the onset of arthritis ended Pati Graham's career as a caretaker for the elderly, beginning a struggle for survival that centered on finding an affordable place to live.

Graham, 62, had one week to find a job and an apartment after the end of her last job caring for an elderly woman with whom she lived.

I wasn't physically able to do the work anymore, Graham said. It was painful, and I didn't have the strength to lift someone from bed. I was getting to where I needed help myself. I was afraid of endangering someone's life.

Without work, Graham couldn't afford the first and last month's rent plus deposits required to move into her own place.

For six months she lived in her pickup truck, unable to find work because of a knee injury exacerbated by arthritis.
— It made you feel pretty desperate, Graham said. It just looked hopeless.

Like other segments of the population in Jackson County, the primary obstacle disabled people face in finding housing is cost, disabled advocates say.

We are in great trouble because people with disabilities are extremely low-income, said Jean Atalla, director of Jackson County Developmental Disabilities Services. Jackson County doesn't have enough housing for low-income, let alone low-income with disabilities.

The disabled often live on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income, about &

36;575 per month. Landlords usually require tenants to have a monthly income of three times the rent, which is often impossible for the disabled, advocates say.

It breaks my heart because people end up staying in substandard housing or on the streets, Atalla said.

Developmental Disabilities Services, ACCESS Inc., Living Opportunities Inc., ARC of Jackson County and other Medford-based organizations offer programs that find housing for the disabled and help out with rent.

The disabled also can get rent subsidies through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 8 Housing Voucher Program, also called HUD. HUD properties are leased through the Jackson County Housing Authority and the Medford Better Housing Association.

The maximum annual income requirement to qualify is &

36;18,250 for an individual.

While the programs help, they hardly make a dent in the need for affordable housing for the disabled, advocates say.

Waiting lists are long.

The wait for housing through HUD is about two and a half years in Jackson County, said officials with the Housing Authority. More than 500 of the some 1,800 families on the waiting list are disabled.

Those in need of housing fare better at the Medford Better Housing Association, where the wait is six months to a year on average.

Other organizations, such as ACCESS, also have waiting lists, ranging from a few weeks to six months.

Another problem is not all disabled people qualify for the programs, advocates say.

For example, those convicted of felonies can be banned from the HUD program for three years to life, depending on the crime, Housing Authority officials said.

For the developmentally disabled, that can be a challenge if they have committed a crime as a result of their disability, advocates say.

Bad history, eviction, felony can all be part of a disability, said Kate Baxted, director of Disability Advocacy for Social and Independent Living. If a person gets sick, they can't pay the hospital bills and their credit goes bad.

While federal law prohibits landlords from discriminating against the disabled, some landlords have reservations about renting to people with developmental disabilities that may prevent them from paying rent on time or keeping their apartment in order.

Landlords are more encouraged to rent to them if they have someone who pays their rent for them, Atalla said.For the physically disabled, accessibility is another barrier to finding housing, advocates say.

We get a lot of calls from people who can't find places that are wheelchair accessible or wide enough for a walker to get through, said Cara Carter, tenant services director for the Housing Authority. There is also a lack of one-bedroom apartments, and disabled people are often single or elderly.

The one-bedroom apartments also tend to be more expensive.

Graham was able to find a job at a Medford thrift shop operated by a nonprofit. Her income from that job allowed her to move last year into a small apartment owned by a friend.

She has been getting rental assistance from ACCESS since January, but that ends next month.

She worries she won't be able to make the rent.

When I think of all the things that could happen to me in my lifetime, the hardest thing would be finding housing again, she said. It's not just finding a place to live; it's finding a place that's accessible and affordable.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4496 or e-mail For the disabled, finding a rental is difficult"