Lawrence Lile, an Affordable Accessible Housing Champion
After seeing his father-in-law move into a Independent Supported Living (ISL) home in Arizona in the early 2000’s, Lawrence Lile, an engineer, decided he wanted to be a part of the solution here in Columbia.
“My father-in-law had a great set-up at his new house. It suited all of his physical needs and the relationship between landlord and tenant was long-term. I wanted to help provide that for people with disabilities here.”
The lack of affordable housing in Columbia is a serious challenge. As a result, ACT staff struggle to find high quality homes in the community for individuals with almost no budget flexibility.
During a two-day affordable housing summit in Columbia last December, Randy Cole, the City’s Housing Programs Supervisor, said the City’s gross median rent has increased over the past five years.
ACT’s Community Living (CL) program offers services ISL homes to people with disabilities.
Many factors stack the deck against the CL program’s work to assist individuals with finding homes. College students drive up the cost of housing in Columbia. Because the stream of incoming students seems to never end, the typical landlord is unlikely to negotiate a lower price.
And most homes available for rent just are not accessible to people who need particular types of support. Individuals supported in CL simply cannot afford renovations. Most landlords won’t pick up the bill.
In a reality where most tenants come and go within a year, it can be difficult to see the long term benefits of changing a home for tenants. This is especially true when there are so many prospective tenants who are able to rent the home without any modifications.
That’s what sets Lile apart from the rest.
It’s been over ten years since Lile purchased and renovated his first house to rent to individuals supported in CL.
“That was my flagship rental. I spent over $11, 000 making the house accessible. And I’m proud of it!” Lile beams.
Prior to buying that first property, Lile reached out to CL program Director Don Lafferty and inquired about the need for quality homes, and landlords, for individuals served in the program. After speaking with Lafferty, Lile leaped into action.
Lile understood that an initial investment into the property not only helped the individuals, but also led to a long term, low maintenance landlord-tenant relationship.
Lile is now a landlord for five individuals in CL, and a self-taught expert in Universal Design (UD).
Lots of research, studying designs, trial and error, and seeking local resources such as Services for Independent Living (SIL) have deepened his understanding of accessibility and universal design.
“I like to try different arrangements until I find what works. I’m an engineer. It’s what I do,” Lile says.
He takes the time to tend to his tenants and care for their homes. “After a person using a wheelchair has lived in the house for awhile, I will come in to take a look at the house to see where the chair has consistently bumped into the wall. I then repair and place a hard surface, such as aluminum, on those spots,” Lile says.
He is currently renovating a property for two individuals in CL. To make it accessible, doorways have been widened to 36 inches, a walk-in closet was made into an accessible shower, carpet was replaced with durable vinyl floor, and slow gradients were placed at each doorway, all within UD guidelines.
“The accessible shower took years to perfect. Leaking was a huge issue. We have the right design this time around,” Lile says.
“Mr. Lile has been accommodating and VERY individual-focused to make sure that the environment meets the needs of the people moving in,” says CL Manager Carrie Griffith. “He’s been available and allowed us to tour the property multiple times to be sure everyone likes the property and that it’s an appropriate match.”
Lile is an electrical engineer. He helps his tenants save serious cash on energy. In the house he is renovating now, Lile replaced the HVAC with a heating/air service that allows independent temperature control of each individual’s room. Lile has also installed special foam around windows and doorways where he’s identified air leaks using a special fan.
Lile was also willing to work with individuals on a monthly payment that works for everyone. “He has been able to negotiate the rent so that our individuals can afford it while still meeting his goals as a landlord,” Griffith says of Lile.
Lile also takes into account the employees providing support. In most CL houses, a staff person called a live-in, resides in the home too. Lile beefed up insulation to act as a sound barrier. This gives the live-in additional privacy when he or she is off the clock.
Griffith says of Lile, “It is incredibly difficult to find affordable, safe, and accessible housing in Columbia. He honestly has just been a pleasure to work with and we have been so thankful for this partnership.”