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An East Side Housing Justice Interview with The Arc Minnesota’s Director of Housing Access

This post was originally written by Bailey Ethier for East Side Housing Justice, a program by the East Side Freedom Library. The housing justice program at the East Side Freedom Library is an innovative program designed to build solidarity and encourage community-driven solutions to systemic problems in housing on the East Side of Saint Paul. 

People with disabilities are disproportionately likely to experience homelessness and federal policies, such as those regulating wages and supplemental security income, perpetuate housing instability in the disabled community. Not only do many people with disabilities work for subminimum wage, they also face income limits if they receive financial support from the state. When it comes to accessibility, both affordable housing options and shelters fall short. And in general, the disabled community is not appropriately considered in the pursuit of housing equity.

Ellen Baudler, the Director of Housing Access at The Arc Minnesota, works to dismantle these injustices in Ramsey County and across the state by creating accessible and affordable housing options for the disabled community. When we asked Baudler why housing is central to disability justice she cited the necessity of intersectional thinking.

“One of the principles of disability justice is intersectionality. Disabled Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who lead the Disability Justice Collective define the sentiment of intersectionality by asserting – we are not only disabled, we are also each coming from a specific experience of race, class, sexuality, age, religious background, geographical location, immigration status, and more. We approach our housing work from an intersectional lens; understanding that disabled people may experience compounding barriers to housing based on the intersections of their diverse identities. Ensuring people’s needs are met in each of these areas is crucial to advancing equity and justice for people with disabilities, and for all people,” said Baudler.

In 1982, she began her journey in housing justice working on rent control efforts in Minneapolis. And before she began her work with The Arc, Baudler worked as a public defender and a housing attorney, which shaped her understanding of housing challenges for low-income people. Her legal background prepared her for her current advocacy roll where she challenges housing application denials, unaddressed maintenance requests, and termination of tenancy decisions. Baudler also wields a deep understanding of regulations implemented by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, giving her key insight into legal infractions on Minnesotan’s rights to housing.

The Arc works to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), supporting them and their families in a lifetime of full inclusion and participation in their communities. The Arc Minnesota’s housing programs specifically help people across all disabilities and those experiencing housing instability access affordable, accessible, inclusive housing in their communities. Team members also connect people with other resources, services, and supports that help lead to stable housing.

When Baudler reflected on the challenges she faces in her work she lamented about the lack of subsidized housing for people who are extremely low-income and the unethical amount of power state and local regulators hold over disability services. “The person with a disability should dictate the services they want and need and how the services are delivered,” said Baudler.

When Mayor Carter introduced the Universal Basic Income (UBI) pilot in St. Paul, The Arc Minnesota was very supportive. Baudler explained that UBI and similar policies respect the value and worth of each person regardless of their capacity for typical work and help ensure people are able to access safe housing.

Recently, Baudler and The Arc Minnesota also led an effort at the Minnesota State Legislature that would have created a shared definition of housing accessibility – both physical and sensory. The initiative ensured state bonding requests for housing projects include these accessibility features, but the proposal was not successful last session. Baudler says they will continue pushing for change to achieve accessible housing in Minnesota, as well as subsidies to ensure no one has to pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

“We need to provide rental subsidies, require universal design and sensory accessibility in housing development, and implement more flexible tenant screening that acknowledges housing challenges faced by people with disabilities,” said Baudler, “We need people with disabilities included in housing policy planning. The disabled community brings solutions and necessary political power to affordable housing efforts. We need to make sure those most impacted by housing instability are informing housing policy, and that means more accessible and equitable policymaking overall.”

Find more information about The Arc Minnesota’s Housing Programs here.

Find more information about East Side Housing Justice and donate to them here.