Despite being a pressing topic, the conversation around accessible and affordable housing often gets overlooked. How do we address this glaring need in a world striving for inclusivity? To dive deep into this issue, we sat down with Katie McAuley, a leading advocate from The Kelsey, an organization working tirelessly to make housing accessible and affordable. In a dialogue with challenges, solutions, and future visions, Katie sheds light on creating an inclusive living space for everyone. From the importance of community engagement to the power of collaborative alliances, Katie's insights are an education for all of us.
Your work at The Kelsey is all about making housing accessible. Can you share some challenges you've faced and how you've overcome them?
Katie: Absolutely, one pervasive challenge is the lack of awareness about the critical shortage of accessible housing. Despite 26% of people in the U.S. having some form of disability, less than 6% of the national housing supply meets accessibility criteria. Often, building codes do just enough to meet the legal minimum but only create inclusive and functional spaces for some.
I’m particularly proud of our approach to addressing this challenge. We are dedicated to open-sourcing ideas, best practices, and innovative strategies to promote disability-forward housing. By "disability-forward," we mean leading with the assets and benefits of constructing housing that inclusively accommodates individuals with disabilities, rather than viewing such inclusion as a burden or hurdle to overcome. Our Learn Center serves as a comprehensive resource for anyone aiming to grasp the complexities of crafting truly accessible homes. Through our efforts, we're contributing significantly to fostering a more inclusive housing sector.
What do you wish more people understood about accessible housing? How can the public support this cause?
Katie: I wish people understood that accessible design is universally beneficial. Take wayfinding as an example; it's an intuitive design element that helps people navigate new spaces easily. This is not just beneficial for people with disabilities but eases stress for everyone involved. There are many elements from The Inclusive Design Standards that I benefit from daily. Increasing the accessibility of built environments fosters more inclusive and diverse communities. Additionally, accessibility increases the sustainability of a development—if we're already building inclusive spaces, it's less likely that we'll need to reconstruct them in the future.
For those interested in supporting the cause, we've made The Inclusive Design Standards an open-source resource. We also offer a self-certification tool for housing developers. Our policy team is tirelessly working to raise the percentage of accessible housing. You can advocate for legislation like The VITAL Act to help improve this number, which is dismally low at just 6% right now. The best way to stay engaged with our initiatives is to sign up for our monthly newsletter.
The Kelsey team at the Kelsey-Ayer Station groundbreaking. Photo from thekelsey.org.
How critical is community engagement to your projects? Could you give an example of how community input has been valuable?
Katie: Community engagement isn't an afterthought; it's foundational to our work. We hold identity-based listening sessions during our pre-development phases. Once we've selected a site, we create a Community Advisory Group (CAG) whose members reflect the racial demographics of the community and the income and disability status of the future development's residents. They are consulted through the multi-year development process and even advise on lease up. We offer stipends to compensate them for their invaluable time and insights.
For example, community input has made us aware of the importance of accessible green spaces. This insight came up across multiple listening sessions, so we’ve incorporated that into our planning.
You're known for your partnerships. How do these collaborations contribute to The Kelsey’s mission?
Katie: I believe in an abundance mindset. Our approach is to "embrace intersectionality and reject scarcity mindsets." We invite everyone who wants to contribute to this enormous task. It’s vital to remain aware of power dynamics, especially when collaborating with historically disenfranchised communities. We strive not just to end oppressive patterns but also to heal communities through our work.
Finally, can you share a project that has had a significant impact?
Katie: Of course! I'm exceptionally proud of our current developments, The Kelsey Ayer Station and The Kelsey Civic Center. Both are situated in areas with great amenities like public transit and cultural spaces but also in high-cost neighborhoods. We've reserved all the 200+ units for tenants making between 20-80% of the area median income. Someone on a fixed income, like those on Social Security, would pay at most 30% of their rent. And that is genuinely life-changing.
Katie's insights comprehensively examine the multifaceted challenges and opportunities in accessible housing. If you're interested in contributing to this vital cause, consider educating yourself further, engaging in community discussions, and supporting legislative efforts to make housing accessible for everyone. Sign up for their monthly newsletter to keep tabs on The Kelsey's ongoing projects and advocacy.
If you're inspired by this conversation and looking for ways to support or get involved in creating affordable and accessible housing, reach out to Sally J. Guzik at [email protected]. Fourth Economy can assist with housing needs assessments, data analysis, and other resources to make our communities more inclusive.