VAD Society's Podcast

The Voice - Housing with Michelle B and Roxanne U

September 07, 2021 VAD Society Season 1 Episode 2
VAD Society's Podcast
The Voice - Housing with Michelle B and Roxanne U
Show Notes Transcript

Michelle Bissell and Roxanne Ulanicki talk housing and the importance of accessible and affordable housing.

In 2016, End Poverty Edmonton (EPE) recommended the creation of "a community based learning project to look at housing and zoning innovation in Edmonton."

In light of this, City Council dedicated funding to the "development and profession of housing innovation in Edmonton." The Affordable Housing Solutions Lab stems directly from this recommendation and is intended to support the goal of the EPE to end poverty in our city within a generation. 

00:00:00 Teresa J.

Welcome to voice of Albertans with disabilities, AKA VAD society’s podcasts.

I'm Teresa Jackson, your host and VAD’s program and service manager.

Thank you for joining us today!  Today on the podcast I'll be talking to two community influencers and getting their perceptions about the housing lab project they have been part of over the last year. 

I met our 1st guest I met through her Volunteer role as a board member for voice of Albertans with disabilities, and now she's a fellow employee. I met our 2nd guest through her role as a volunteer in the local community and I'm proud to say I've known both these wonderful ladies for a number of years now.

I'm excited by their knowledge and understanding of the community as it pertains to inclusion, accessibility and full participation, and specifically today about the housing project lab.

Together we hold the power.

Please welcome Michelle Bissell and Roxanne Ulanicki.

Hello ladies can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?

Michelle, you can go first.


00:00:51 Michelle B.

Well, I've been with Vad now for four years, just over four years, and before that I was on  the VAD board for a couple of years and I work part time, sometimes at the. U of A with the occupational therapy department.


00:01:12 Teresa J



00:01:14 Roxanne U.

Hi I will I'm Roxanne and I'm a community advocate in the community. I ended up retiring from my career in 2005 and decided that day that I would use my pension as a paycheck and advocate for people with disabilities. So happy To be here.


00:01:33 Teresa J.

That was wonderful as we're on a podcast to have a few fun questions to get to know you a little better.

And then I have some more serious questions about the housing lab project that we can jump into later.

So let's get started.

Michelle, if you could visit anywhere in the world where would it be?


00:01:49 Michelle B.

I would go to Greece - why because I took the classics in university and it would be neat to see all the stadium and everything they talked about in them.

And I hear the beach there is gorgeous.


00:02:06 Teresa J.

I agree it would be.


00:02:08 Teresa J.

Roxanne, if you could have coffee with any historical fear, who would you choose?


00:02:15 Roxanne U.

Well, I mean, that's a very hard question, but because of the work, Michelle and I do, I would want to meet Nelson Mandela.

We use a quote of his in our presentation.

Yeah, I just think it would be delightful to meet in person.


00:02:29 Teresa J.

Michelle,  if you won $10 million tomorrow, what would you spend it on after you bought us lunch?


00:02:35 Michelle B.

Yeah just lunch, no we get the whole shebang there, no I would hope my family and friends pay off our debt.

Maybe build myself inaccessible house.


00:02:51 Teresa J.

That's pretty good.


00:02:53 Teresa J.

Roxanne, if you had to eat one meal for the Rest of your life, what would it be?


00:02:57 Roxanne U.

Oh my God.

That's a terrible idea, but yeah.

Well, I mean I'm a.

You know, I My Heritage is Ukrainian, so and I don't.

I don't cook Ukrainian food, so I think that's a great idea.

You know, cabbage rolls, perogies, nalishnika.

Oh, you know, mashed Potatoes, some sort of lovely meat.


00:03:18 Teresa J.

Thanks for those great answers ladies.

Let's talk serious and get your perception on what's going on in regards to the housing lab project.

Can you please explain what the housing that project is for those of us that don't know about the project.


00:03:32 Roxanne U.

Well, so I actually gave a presentation here at art space almost 10 years ago, and one of the organizers of that project then remembered me.

And so when they started up the affordable housing solutions Lab at the uofa.

Laura Murphy gave me a call and said, would you be interested in being a fellow on the lab and I thought, well, that sounds really important.

that I could say I'm a fellow, but also my passion for almost my entire life has been housing that that's one of the basic things that people need.

People with disabilities, and especially people with mobility impairments, and that's the hardest thing to find.

And when you don't have that basic living need met, it's really hard to get educated, be employed, have families.

You know we need that basic starting point that everyone else has.

And you know, I spent 20 years looking for accessible housing in Edmonton before I found where I live now.


00:04:32 Teresa J



00:04:34 Roxanne U.

so I'm really passionate about You know, making it better or maybe not for me in my generation, but the next generation coming up, you know, coming out of a family growing up with siblings.

And trying to achieve all the life goals everyone else wants to.

We need access to housing?

Same you know, so yeah, so it's just a passion of mine and.


00:04:54 Michelle B.

And she brought me into it.


00:04:57 Roxanne U.

Yeah, and they asked A number of people from the community, so it was it certainly wasn't just about people with disabilities.

But as we discovered as we went through the project, as you know, two others of the Community leaders at the table, although they were representing people who are indigenous or people of color, they both had disabilities that they were dealing with as well, and so we saw the common denominator and then decided, well, let's see if we can Create more. Discussion


00:05:25 Teresa J.

That that kind of brings me to the next question is how did the housing lab come to fruition?


00:05:32 Roxanne U.

Yeah, I'm not sure about the lab that was kind of before me.


00:05:36 Teresa J.



00:05:36 Roxanne U.

Uhm, but yeah, I just got approached and was asked and spent about six months.

You know, doing sort of some of the committee work, and again, it's hard to know how to start these sort of projects.


00:05:48 Teresa J.

Can you explain what the housing lab project does, like as somebody who doesn't know anything about it?


00:05:55 Roxanne U.

Well, I think it's supposed to be like Two way and that you know.

We learn from each other.

So we bring our own expertise to the table, but it's also an opportunity to use the university resources to learn more to, you know, find common denominators you know, because of course You know the staff at the, the housing lab have access to all the information and research you want so that that's a was a crucial component. Having access to that kind of stuff.


00:06:28 Michelle B.

And also when it helps us get our view points and our what we think out there into the world, not just in the Like in the little bubble kind of thing,.


00:06:43 Roxanne U.

Well and then the Housing choice series that Michelle and I participated in.

That came about because I ended up in a room full of architects and they were talking about how to help those poor people and saying things like, well, we couldn't really find anybody to interview.

Well my head I thought was exploding on camera because.

I'm like what?

Like who do you want to talk to like?

I mean, I was shocked that that was said and I was very upset.

And I thought that nobody these people should not be paid being sitting, sitting around, talking about us without us, but half of that room should have been people with disabilities.

And half of the rooms should be people who have architecture  you know, experience, and so that really upset me.

And the fact that they said they couldn't find anybody to talk to.

And I thought, well, I'll show you.

And that's how this.

Three part series came about right.

It was just because of that one experience where I have had that experience like way more times than I would like to .acknowledge in my life where I'm the only one with a disability in a room full of able bodied people trying to figure out how to help us.

We'll just ask us.

Like we could tell you, but often they don't like the answers or you know it doesn't fit into the rampant capitalism we've got going on right now and so it makes those conversations really difficult


00:08:05 Michelle B.

yeah, really awkward.


00:08:07 Teresa J.

How much work went into planning the project and how?

How much?

How long was each session?


00:08:13 Michelle B.

Well, a lot.

Of work and planning went into this project.

We started meetings what, two months before the actual housing series and we met once a week for sure on Wednesday for like what an hour and a half, two hours sometimes,  and then and then every second Friday so we met and planned the sessions out and that took a while and then each session was about 3 hours.

So a lot of work went into it.

A lot of planning, a lot of discussion, a lot of deciding on what to do and how to do it.


00:08:52 Roxanne U.

Well and it was great to work in a group full of our peers like we draw in others, we drew in other people with disabilities, and so the majority of people in the room were people with disabilities, which you, you know is kind of not doesn't happen as much as we would like it to happen.


00:09:08 Teresa J

Should happen more.


00:09:09 Roxanne U.

Yeah, so.


00:09:09 Michelle  .

Yes it should.


00:09:11 Teresa J.

Who is your audience for the project?


00:09:14 Michelle B.

Well, well, we.


00:09:15 Roxanne U.

Put our invitations out really wide.

I mean where we were hoping to see like developers.

And architects right?

And I don't know how many of those actually came.

We do know that we got quite a few bit of interest from the Government of Alberta, that a number of people working in housing in those areas attended, and a lot of our peers came, which was nice for us.


00:09:29 Michelle B.

Yeah, exactly.


00:09:38 Roxanne U.

You know, to see that the support and the love that Came from that.


00:09:42 Michelle B.

And a few other organizations that represent.

People with disabilities.


00:09:46 Roxanne U.

It was well attended, maybe just we wish there would be more interest from the for profit side of things.


00:09:54 Teresa J.

Are you hoping to continue the project in the future?


00:09:56 Roxanne U.

I mean I. wasn't sure like 'cause initially I was just given a six month kind of contract for the fellowship, but here we are with a year and a half later and they're still going strong and the lab itself is talking about adding more voices to the table and, and that this they want this to be a long term project, so yeah.


00:10:17 Michelle B.

Yeah, I hope It continues this this issue of housing needs voices and we need change.


00:10:27 Roxanne U.

And it's a major human rights issue.

Yeah, you know, the basic tenants of human rights is shelter right?

And food security and We don't have access to shelter.

Not shelter that gives us dignity and allows us to do what everyone else does work.

Play, you know, drive.


00:10:47 Teresa J.


Were there any solutions that were brought forward and are they viable?


00:10:51 Roxanne U.

It always takes that capital investment, which of course people with disabilities are the lowest income earners of any identifiable group.


00:10:55 Michelle B.

Don't have, yeah.


00:10:58 Roxanne U.

We don't have access to money.

The only way we, we have access is through insurance.

So if you have the great privilege of being in a workplace accident or a car accident, I'm being facetious, you know, but, Or, or your family has money and they can sort of compensate for what is not provided.

But we don't all have that.

A lot of us come from middle class working families that can't afford to house - like to make that kind of commitment right.

My parents always helped me make sure I had a vehicle to drive but a house Is way beyond what one middle class family can sort of afford to do for one of their children type thing right?


00:11:39 Teresa J.

Why's accessible housing critical to society?


00:11:44 Michelle B.

Well, if you don't have housing, you can't be happy, Comfortable work, have a family you know.

Housing is the number one thing that people need.


00:11:58 Roxanne U.

Yeah, and I mean well if we have appropriate housing then we can work.

Then we can pay taxes then you know like it's, it's what everybody aspires to do.


00:12:04 Michelle B.

And go the school.


00:12:08 Roxanne U.

That's all we want.


00:12:10 Teresa J.

Same as everyone else.


00:12:11 Teresa J.

Yeah, who do you want to pay attention to the housing lab outside of the actual attendees, 


00:12:16 Michelle B.

Yeah, yeah.


00:12:18 Roxanne U.

builders, developers, Government you know?

And and I think the problem is.

This is within sort of the capitalist system, right?

We're always about three months that we make money in this three month period.

We're always about making money, making money, making money, but housing is a long term investment and, and people need to realize how they're saving by providing us that housing.

Because if we don't have appropriate housing, we end up in long term care Facilities, which costs three times more, if not more.

We, we end up in hospitals, which again costs way more than just supporting us Even with home care in our own homes, yeah.


00:12:57 Teresa J.

If it costs more to renovate to make accessible housing, why not build accessible housing to start with?


00:13:05 Michelle B

Good Questions


00:13:08 Roxanne U.

Please let’s figure that out… we agreed.

We're not sure what regular Albertans need to hear to understand the value of doing this properly.

We struggle more, we know that right?

We're OK with that.

Yeah no.


00:13:18 Michelle B.

Part of our life.

Those of us that make it we're, we're in for the fight but we'd like a few like basic access to housing which is.


00:13:25 Michelle B.

Accessible and affordable housing.


00:13:27 Roxanne U.

Yeah it would Would take a huge barrier away from us and really make us more productive and able to support ourselves and to live independently and not use all the extra services.


00:13:39 Michelle B.

And be part of the community more.


00:13:41 Teresa J.

Are there any myths in the community that you want to dispel about housing?


00:13:46 Roxanne U.

Well, I thought I mean and I said this just recently on the radio this week.

But where does Albertans think we live?

If we use a wheelchair?

Like really, we're out on the streets, you see us?

Plus, we're visible in society.

Where do you think we live?

You know and again.

I mean, there could be just a lack of knowledge, because certainly I can rent an apartment, right?

'cause I use a wheelchair and can rent an apartment with an elevator has to have an elevator, but then I can't get into any of the bathrooms.

I have to literally crawl in and out of the bathroom.

And and, you know, climb on furniture to get dishes out of my counter.

Or you know, out of my kitchen.


00:14:22 Michelle B.

I would hate to see that.


00:14:24 Roxanne U.

I I don't do it anymore, thank God, but as a younger person that’s what you do, you crawl.


00:14:29 Michelle B.

And I have taken risks like Roxanne at my parents’ house, I mean shoot I had to climb two flights of stairs to get to my bedroom or when I moved to the basement I had to climb down A flight of stairs and you know, yeah, I was at school.


00:14:47 Roxanne U.

That takes away valuable energy that we could be spending on our careers and our families.


00:14:54 Michelle B.

I was going to university at the time and I tell ya.

I was so exhausted all the time, not only from school, but from having to maneuver in my own house, right and spend all that extra energy on stairs and stuff.


00:15:12 Teresa J.

Anything else you want to say?


00:15:15 Roxanne U.

I just that we appreciate the interest from the Affordable Housing Lab.

Josh and Laura were lovely, you know, and really wanted to put us in a position of power and Laura was at the meeting with the architects and she saw she got to see what happened.


00:15:22 Michelle B

They were great.


00:15:32 Roxanne U.

And how you know?

I'm normally a pretty confident, well spoken person, and yet you put me in front of a bunch of people that don't see me as equal to them and she just could see how I just shrunk into the background.

And she even tried to say Roxanne you should you know, in the meeting trying to .raise me up and I couldn't.

I felt powerless and so I felt unsafe and so we need to create safe safe spaces for us to speak honestly and not be patronized and condescended by some person that's only interested in.

Money right?

We need to be considered as full humans who deserve to have quality in their lives.

And it's not about money.

Disability should never be.


00:16:18 Michelle B.

No, we are full human beings.


00:16:20 Roxanne U.

Yeah, we have families and kids and grandkids and careers and all that.


00:16:27 Michelle B.

And careers and all that. Go to university.


00:16:29 Roxanne U.

But we also see that many of our peers don't make it right.


They don't make it through these really complicated.

Right, some of us do like that are just the fighters and aren't giving up for nothing, but not everybody is wired that way and nor should they have to be to have a quality of life.


00:16:47 Michelle B.

And it's it's exhausting.

Yeah, it's exhausting and I think that's why a lot of our peers don't make it.

00:16:55 Michelle B.

Yeah, it's because it's it's exhausting.


00:16:58 Roxanne U.

And demoralizing and dehumanizing.

I mean, I didn't understand at 17 I came.

I came from the farm into the city.

I'm going to do what everybody else does.

I got a renters guide I wouldn't have known like and I didn't know until my 30s that, oh, there's like agencies that help with, you know, unique housing needs, so I'd never even thought.

I mean, I grew up in a conservative family.

You take care of yourself, you do.So it didn't even dawn on me that I was supposed to look to a charity for to meet my housing needs.

When I was paying full market rent, I sometimes teased landlords a bit and just said well I shouldn't have to get paid like I should get a reduction in rent 'cause I can't use the balcony. And you know there's areas of the building I can't access, so why am I paying for them? Oh yeah, that didn't go well.


00:17:46 Teresa J.

OK, that was a great conversation.

I appreciate your ability to support and advocate in the Community as influencers and educators.

I have one final question for the both of you.

What would be the title of the book about you If Roxanne wrote it herself?


00:18:03 Michelle B.

I'm not done yet.


00:18:07 Roxanne U

That's good.


00:18:09 Teresa J.

Same question for Roxanne and what would the title of the book about you be if Michelle wrote it.


00:18:00 Michelle B.

Broken Candy.


00:18:16 Roxanne U.

Yeah, well I had this nickname.

When like the Internet first started, so a very long time ago, like around 95.

There's a song by Sawyer Brown called Broken Candy, and I use that as my nickname on the Internet for years because.

Candies candy sweet right.

Sweet, no matter what.

So yeah,.


00:18:39 Teresa J.

Good job 

Thank you for taking your time and energy today.

Ladies Michelle, relax and can both be contacted.

Through that office.

Voice of Albertans with disabilities Is cross disability nonprofit organization of and for people with disabilities that is guided by the principles of accessibility, equity and inclusion.

Learn about VAD services on our website at or call 780-488-9088 for more information. Thank you again for joining VAD’s podcast. Signing off for today. Together we hold the power.