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'Reasonable' accommodations?

Original post made on May 9, 2008

Palo Alto woman, housing corporation battle over disability, responsibility

A disabled woman is being evicted from her apartment by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation after 15 years of battling over what constitutes "reasonable accommodation" for her disability.

Related stories:

  • When the environment can kill you

    Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, May 9, 2008, 10:10 AM
  • Comments (19)

    Posted by C me around, a resident of Ventura
    on May 9, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    Candice Gonzalez, the corporation's executive director said. "We don't know what else to do at this point."

    Yeah, just kick her to the streets. Way to go Palo Alto Housing..I find it really hard to believe that PAHC can not find any suitable housing for disabled people..especially a tenant who has been calling their rental unit "home" for the past 15 years...........

    Please pay attention to our disabled individuals.
    Someday YOU or close loved one may be in the same situation.
    IT HAPPENS.


    Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
    on May 9, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    One humane thing to do would be to build some chemically sensitive housing units as a part of the ABAG requirement; that would solve this problem, and reach out to others with the same problem. Why not?


    Posted by Palo Alto Bill, a resident of Midtown
    on May 10, 2008 at 12:12 am

    Are we kidding here? Why should the town have to build this woman housing? I'd like a house built for me too! ... i have major health issues and I intend to take care of myself, not ask for handouts!


    Posted by trudy, a resident of Crescent Park
    on May 10, 2008 at 7:16 am

    I believe there are housing groups for chemically sensitive people in various areas of the country. It seems to me that the reasonable thing to do would be to help her financially to move to one of those.

    There's no way a chemically sensitive person can live in a regular urban environment without enormous financial costs. This is different from the minor or moderate expenses for adding accommodations for someone who needs wheelchair access, etc. which does not affect the surrounding apartments or maintenance of the building.


    Posted by trudy, a resident of Crescent Park
    on May 10, 2008 at 7:25 am

    Here you go, two minutes with google turned these up:

    $1500 a month rent:
    Web Link
    One mile from the beach in Florida, how tough is that?

    Or "Subsidized housing in the USA is not usually built with the chemically sensitive in mind, except for two outstanding green affordable housing developments:
    Ecology House - San Rafael, CA Web Link
    and Colorado Court - Santa Monica, CA Web Link "


    Posted by wary, a resident of Midtown
    on May 10, 2008 at 7:37 am

    Hmmm...imagine, with universal health care coverage, we can all claim unknowable, untestable, unvalidatable medical issues, get coverage for it, then, get free housing since it is a medical issue!

    Mold damage, chemical sensitivities, chronic fatigue, chronic and untraceable pain, chronic headaches of unknown origin..

    I remember reading about German health coverage covering some of their people moving to FLORIDA for their health.

    Wow,..will ours pay for me to move to the Riviera?

    Not insensitive to the chemically sensitive plights, but definitely on the side of...move someplace you can tolerate, like billions of people before you.


    Posted by Nathan, a resident of Midtown
    on May 10, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Why would anyone want to be a landlord these days? Rental units are being converted to private condos, partly in order to avoid this craziness. Even private owners of granny units in their back yards are at serious risk.

    I suspect that this woman is gaming the system. Either way, and for the greater good of most people, this woman should be evicted, period.


    Posted by Laura, a resident of another community
    on May 10, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    It sounds like this woman gets Social Security Disability and housing assistance from a HUD program. If that is the case, the "choices" are even more limiting to those with multiple chemical sensitivity, since most of those dwellings are multi-unit and located in the less environmentally friendly areas of cities or towns. So, yes, she could opt to try to find a suitable place for her health issues, but chances are they will be too expensive or not covered by HUD. A prime example is the one mentioned in Florida for $1500 per month. Most Section 8 programs max out single disabled people to a mere $500 or less per month.

    It is definitely not an easy fix. The best option might be to educate those involved with Habitat for Humanity with the proper methods of building for those with chemical sensitivities. Building "green" rarely equates to sufficiently safe housing for those folks.

    I do agree with her statement about having strength in having a patient advocate, but not about the fact that the disease not causing the disability, but the poverty causing the disability. If it was not for the disease to boot, then these folks could work and live as easily and freely as the next person. Many are very well-educated and used to lead profitable, successful and happy lives, but have become cast out from society on all levels as if they were lepers. If there was more research, more acceptance and more education about it, then yes, the disability and the poverty issues could both be reduced, but no one seems to have any compassion anymore. It is everyone for him or herself, despite the fundamentals of their religion or personal values. They are not put into practice anymore and it's a real pity.


    Posted by William, a resident of Barron Park
    on May 10, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


    Posted by JustAThought, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
    on May 10, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Perhaps one of the "chloramine victims" will take her in?
    Mind-made misery loves company, after all!


    Posted by Susan Wenger, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
    on May 11, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    Interesting how some people immediately leap to the conclusion that this woman is just gaming the system. Based on what evidence? That Social Security Disability pays such a princely sum that even highly paid professionals decide to give up their jobs to go on it? That people derive some kind of benefit by claiming to have an illness that most people don't understand and many don't believe in?

    If you're at all interested in this topic, go here:

    Web Link

    ... and click the link to the song "Everybody Knows About Me." I don't expect this will convince anyone who feels good about blaming the victim, but sufferers and open-minded people might appreciate it.

    P.S. I'm not a resident of any of these neighborhoods; the drop-down menu didn't give an option for "none of the above." My apologies.


    Posted by victimhood creates victims, a resident of South of Midtown
    on May 11, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    I don't feel good about blaming the victim..I feel good about encouraging self-reliant choices and reliance on families.


    Posted by Susan Wenger, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
    on May 11, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    I'm all for self-reliant choices and reliance on families. It's just that these things aren't always an option. What if she doesn't have family that can help her? What if her family, like many people here, doesn't believe her?

    If she were bedridden because she had cancer, would you blame her for not being self-reliant?

    Incidentally, I'm not unsympathetic to the Palo Alto Housing Corporation's position. They're simply not set up to help someone like this woman, and it's entirely possible that they don't have the funds to get set up. If you're going to provide housing for people with environmental illnesses, then all the housing needs to accomodate EI, and all the residents need to follow certain rules about using fragrance-free products. I don't think housing like this exists anywhere. The best solution for all involved is to make it exist.


    Posted by Mid-town cermudgeon, a resident of Midtown
    on May 12, 2008 at 4:01 am

    Seems to me that reasonable accomodation goes both ways. If she's going to demand subsidized housing with all sorts of special conditions, the housing authorities should be able to demand a second opinion of her medical condition.

    Her current doctor's website read's a bit too holisitc touchy-feely for me. I'm like to see his opinions supported by some old fashioned lab tests and pathology reports to figure out exactly what this woman needs.

    Stanford Hospital is a world leader in lymphoma research. They understand the immune system really really well. Get some of their docs to figure out her case, and see if they can justify any of her supposed medical requirements, before spending another public dime.


    Posted by just thinkin, a resident of South of Midtown
    on May 13, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Who's paying the rent on the adjacent apartments left vacant for her benefit?


    Posted by Steve Chalmers, a resident of another community
    on May 13, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Couldn't resist responding to "Mid town curmudgeon"; I've rented a midtown apartment for my son who has similar sensitivities but not as severe, so he can continue his education.

    There are four problems here.

    First, there's a real medical problem which cannot possibly occur given the basic theory behind both the practice of medicine and the underlying research.

    Second, for about 50 years now there has been a small contingent of physicians and researchers interested in this problem, but all of the monied interests are best served by denying its existence -- whether disability insurers, liability concerns in the chemical industry (which for many years funded and staffed a pseudo science lobbying effort much as the tobacco industry did), etc. Even the VA went down this path for a while after the Gulf War. Stanford medical, by the way, was for over a decade the home of a vocal (and courtroom performing) physician who convincingly believes that this illness cannot be physical; since despite his no longer working there Stanford never repudiated his position, Stanford as a result has taken sides in the 50 year old debate and therefore cannot render an objective opinion.

    Third, as a result of lack of research over the last 50 years, there's no objective way to distinguish someone who's malingering, someone who's got a psychological illness causing the perception of these environmental intolerances, and someone who really is physically disabled this way.

    Fourth, there's for the most part no safety net and essentially no housing for people who have the real, physical disability. It is extraordinarily difficult to establish a safe-enough-to-function environment; an environment painstakingly crafted over a decade to an individual's needs can be destroyed in less than a minute by introducing the wrong solvent or other nervous system modulating chemical. (Sorry, I'm an electrical engineer, don't know the medical term. The problem is like a collapse of the noise margins in the nervous system, but the noise is molecules in the bloodstream not volts like I work with.)

    So in this case, the lack of medical knowledge combined with the lack of a social safety net has led to a situation been dealt with unaffordably and unsustainably but with compassion for over a decade. There are no easy answers.


    Posted by TERRY S FORREST, a resident of another community
    on May 13, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    I am wondering why there isn't more done on the form of housing
    reform to deal with Medically Necessary Accommodations or Modifications. One resolution would be to create an interest
    free home modification loan that would assist to accommodate
    the individual with a disability. The the Housing provider
    would have more of an incentive to assist in Medically Necessary
    accommodations and not be penalized or create a more diffifult
    resolution process while being suppled with other funds that
    might not be ready available. The longer a disability issue
    goes without being assisted adds deteriation to ones health.
    Not to mention creating more of a burden to those that are
    around to assist. Creating alternate sources & alternative funding
    resolutions would provide much needed assistance to provide an
    equal or healthier quality of life to all by removing the financial
    barriers to provide for the needs of the disabled individual to continue to live in the community of their choice. We all know that it costs less and provides a much higher quality of life to
    provide for one in our own community. Ones health deteriotes quickly once a person is put it an assisted living situation.


    Posted by C me around, a resident of Ventura
    on May 13, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Hummm. Perhaps one could sell his or her body to Science to be disected when they die...that way we can all find out WHAT is REALLY wrong with people (especially for those of you who are the disbelivers). Meanwhile, the money that they receive for selling their bodies can go towards paying extravagant rent to crying landlords.


    Posted by Anna, a resident of another community
    on Mar 30, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    It astounds me that people can be so quick to blame someone in desperate need. This is an autoimmune problem and these people are ill. the money they cost tax payers is very small compared to the cost of our wars and CEO thieves. A society's degree of civilization can be judged by the way it treats it's old, and people who can't contribute ecanomicaly because they are ill.


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