‘I really don’t know who to contact’: Finding accessible housing is a struggle in Wichita

by Sarah Beauchamp

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series looking at housing issues faced by people in Wichita. It is produced by members of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of 11 organizations, including The Journal.

Doris Griffith spent her life working to help others with their mental health, but now that she’s retired, she struggles to find a place she can call her own.

Griffith retired from Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas at the beginning of September and has been looking for a place of her own ever since. She currently rents a house with her brother. But the house isn’t accessible, and she has safety concerns there.

In the middle of the summer, her brother’s dog knocked her over, and she was unable to get up until a neighbor found her. 911 had to be called to assist her.

Griffith said she’s just now recovering from the incident and still struggles to do household work.

“It’s just been a nightmare,” Griffith said.

Sally Stang, the city of Wichita’s housing director, said finding accessible housing is a common issue for people with mobility issues like Griffith.

“We have a tremendous need for more accessible housing units,” Stang said.

According to Stang, the city is unsure how many people are trying to find accessible housing. But when she talks to people who need it, they are struggling to do so.

Stang added that finding accessible housing for families is especially difficult because there is little existing accessible housing built for multiple people. Stang said many families have to modify houses to be accessible after buying them.

“I wish new housing would be built accessible from the get-go,” Stang said.

She said with more people trying to age in place, the need for accessible housing has grown.

Griffith remains concerned about falling or a similar incident where she wouldn’t be found for a long period of time.

She has vision and mobility issues and needs a space without steps where she is safe walking around. Her daughter has medical issues of her own, so Griffith is looking for a two-bedroom place where they can live together.

Griffith said the lack of available housing options has been a major obstacle in her search. She  has searched unsuccessfully to find a place that meets her needs at a price she can afford.

According to a study by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), just 3.8% of housing is livable for people with moderate mobility issues and less than 1% of housing is wheelchair accessible.

Griffith said apartments she looked at were either leased quickly by someone else or the added fees that were not listed put them out of her price range.

“There just hasn’t been availability. (If) people have something affordable, they’re just not moving,” Griffith said. “It’s really competitive.”

Stang said 29% of housing in Wichita is cost-burdened, meaning people are paying more than the recommended 30% of income toward housing.

Griffith is on a fixed income that is limited to retirement and Social Security. She said some of her mobility issues come from workplace injuries, but when she filed for worker’s compensation, she was told she couldn’t prove her issues came from her injury rather than age.

She wants to continue looking for housing but is unsure who to reach out to for assistance.

Griffith said she’d like to see more “in-between” housing options for people who need accessible housing or assistance with lawn care but aren’t ready to switch to full-time assisted living.

“I think there’s a whole group of people like me who are retired or semi-retired, but we’re still pretty active,” Griffith said. “We take care of our own stuff.”

Sarah Beauchamp was the Fall 2023 intern for the Wichita Journalism Collaborative.

This article was republished here with the permission of: KLC Journal