Ananda Bennett’s story about how she became a quadriplegic still makes her laugh.
“I love this story so much,” she said.
It started as a normal day for the then 11-year-old. Her mom picked her and her brother up from school and they went to run errands. Then Bennett felt a sharp pain between her shoulder blades. By the time her mom returned to the car, it was a scene out of a movie.
“I’m bawling because the pain is so bad,” Bennett said. “Our family pet Yorkie, who is in the front seat, is barking at me because I won’t quit screaming and crying. And my mom looks at my brother and she sees me crying and my brother’s like, ‘I didn’t touch her I swear!’”
She was rushed to the hospital where she began to lose feeling in her limbs. It was a brain-stem stroke. Doctors still don’t know why it happened to her at such a young age.
Bennett is a character. Her voice is low and raspy and she speaks through a speaking valve. Her hair is in a buzz cut except for two long blue strands.
Her stroke happened nearly 20 years ago. Now she lives with her boyfriend in a two-bedroom apartment in Greensboro. But it took them almost a year to find their apartment, which is located in a complex where you have to be either be a senior citizen over 62, or handicapped.
Affordable Housing in the Triad
There’s a housing crisis for people with disabilities in North Carolina. There’s a lack of actual buildings for people to live in, but even if they were available, they wouldn’t be able to afford them.
Housing Resource Coordinator for The Arc of NC, Maggi Gurling helps people like Bennett daily. The Arc of NC is a nonprofit that provides services for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities.
When people call Gurling looking for a place to live, there’s not much she can do.
“Housing is so unpredictable when the stock is this limited because you never really know when a unit is going to turn over,” she said. “So helping people be prepared as possible when that happens, is my role.”
In the Triad, The Arc of NC only has three housing units available out of 200.
When people do find a place, they stay. Ananda Bennett has lived in her apartment for nearly seven years.
“It was difficult to find a place that the rent was based on income and it was accessible and not a complete dump and it was [a] healthy and safe environment to live in,” she said.
However, if a disabled person can’t find an independent place to live, their remaining options aren’t great.
Disability Rights, North Carolina is a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of people with disabilities.
Attorney Susan Pollitt said when people can’t find a place to live it’s not a good situation to be in.
“Our support and services with disabilities have to be designed so that people are not segregated or placed in congregate settings like adult care homes or institutions like our developmental centers or psychiatric hospitals,” she said.
Pollitt wants legislature to spend more money on housing for people with disabilities. Communities like Raleigh and Charlotte are already putting money toward more affordable housing. Raleigh committed $10 million to the cause and Charlotte will have a $50 million bond for affordable housing. Pollitt wants to be sure that includes housing for people with disabilities and she also wants it to be a statewide effort.
“We really shouldn’t do it community by community,” she said. “It creates uneven spots where there’ll be places where people with disabilities won’t be able to access community, neighbors, workplaces. It won’t be as robust, or inclusive for everyone who lives there.”
According to an affordable housing study by nonprofit Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc. in North Carolina, a person who is disabled and depends on social security income for rent ends up using 92 percent of that money on a one bedroom place.
Even though the wait to find a home is long, Ananda Bennett says it’s important for people with disabilities to have their own space. She and her boyfriend eventually want to buy their own home.
“We like to make our own decisions or at least feel like we’re making our own decisions,” she said. “We don’t get to do that a lot of times, especially being disabled you lose a lot of control on what goes on in your life. Having your own home, being in your own place, it gives you a sense of individuality.”