Fellow Reflection: Roxanne Ulanicki

Written by Roxanne Ulanicki

The Fellowship Program brings together experiential partners, researchers, practitioners, housing providers, policymakers, planners and housing advocates to collaborate over a 6-month term. During this time, Fellows work together to identify and explore innovative affordable housing solutions and to provide the lab direction with regard to community learning activities. These blog posts will describe how each of the Fellows became interested in housing and why they think housing is important.

  1. How did you come to be involved in the field of housing? 

I am a consumer of housing. I’ve been looking for wheelchair accessible housing since 1986.  

There is no market for wheelchair accessible housing in Edmonton.  There is also not a market for visitable housing.

I know this because I have been looking for it for 35 years

I have written countless letters, met city councillors, MLA’s.  I even served on the board of a non-profit housing society until I was removed for checking into the CEO’s credentials.  (He bought his MBA online for $750) 

I have been told many times, by builders in particular, that I have no right to tell people how to build or develop housing. They laugh when I describe a barrier free neighbourhood.  Most landlords have denied me accommodations.

I’ve been by government that this is a capitalist society and the “free” market will provide and adjust to what consumers need.  I’ve been needing housing since 1986.  

Finally, in 2004 I did find wheelchair accessible housing.  I found Artspace Housing Cooperative. 

Artspace is a housing development on the east side of downtown Edmonton.  

It consists of an eight-story high rise and a row of townhouses.  Twenty nine out of eighty-eight units are adapted for people who use wheelchairs.  

Artspace also owns a homecare company which provides services authorized and funded by Alberta Health Services. 

These services make it possible for many people with disabilities to live independently as opposed to living in long term care or in unhealthy, co-dependent relationships.  

Our members with disabilities are able to participate more in the community whether it be working or volunteering. 

Simply, we use less healthcare dollars by sharing these resources amongst our members. 

This housing development opened for tenants in 1990.  The wheelchair accessible units rarely come available for rent.  Those of us who live here joke about only leaving here in a coffin.  No one moves out because there is literally nowhere else to go.

A majority of members have very sad stories about where they lived before finding Artspace.  One of our most recent members had been living in a hospital for 5 months because there was nowhere that could accommodate him.

Housing is essential to living a good life here in Canada.  Everyone should have access to housing that enables them to live independently and pursue work and/or careers.

I retired at the age of 36 for medical reasons and I believe lack of accessible housing was a major barrier to success.

I have done most of my advocacy work since I have found accessible housing myself. People who are marginalized by housing cannot be expected to advocate for themselves when they are experiencing a lack of freedom and mobility.

Even today, conversations around accessible housing unnerve me because I think the conversation will be reduced to how we can do “more” with less money and reducing my life to a dollar sign.

So, I’m involved in the area of housing out of necessity.

2. Why is housing important?

Housing in a northern climate is an absolute necessity.  

If we want our economy to thrive, people need to live in housing that enables them to work and participate in society.

It’s pretty hard to live a meaningful life if you have minimal access to the community around you.

People with disabilities need to be meaningfully included in society because it is a violation of our human rights and just irresponsible to not include us.   

Housing is the solution not the problem.

3. In your opinion what is innovative when it comes to affordable housing?

Barrier free /Visitable design for all housing from today forward.  

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