In many ways, Ben and Daelee McCormick are like other married couples. They bicker, they host holiday gatherings for their families and they have learned the importance of patience.
But in other ways, the McCormicks, who have been married for four years, are not like other couples. She has cystic fibrosis, and he is paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Now, they’re trying to find a wheelchair-accessible house to rent while surviving on a modest income. Neither works, and their combined disability payments amount to less than $1,000 per month. A Section 8 housing voucher, meanwhile, will contribute $900 per month to housing.
Finding a home under such circumstances is not an easy task in Central Oregon. The rental vacancy rate has remained below 2 percent since 2012, according to the annual rental survey produced by the Central Oregon Rental Owners Association. The search for a home is particularly urgent for the McCormicks, who are currently living in separate homes.
“I think our relationship is the only one like it,” Ben McCormick said. “We are a very strong couple because of our situation.”
After the diving accident in 2012 that left him paralyzed from the chest down, the couple moved out of their two-story condo and into a single-level home in Redmond that could accommodate his wheelchair. The McCormicks lived there for four years, but the homeowner died and left the house to family members, who decided to sell it. Thus began a tumultuous year for the McCormicks.
Daelee McCormick, 26, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis — an inherited disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system — when she was a baby and has been on a lung transplant list since June.
She moved with her oxygen tanks and other medical equipment to Bend earlier this year, a decision that allowed the couple to retain a Section 8 housing voucher that would have expired if unused.
Daelee McCormick constantly checks multiple websites for available housing, but managing the daily complications of cystic fibrosis prevents her from hunting for housing in person, she says.
The housing voucher the McCormicks qualify for is modest and limits the couple’s options, she said.
Finding a two-bedroom home to rent in Central Oregon on the strength of their income is difficult. Finding a home that accommodates a wheelchair and the couple’s therapy dogs is even harder.
“There’s nothing available for the price range or that’s wheelchair acceptable in Redmond,” Daelee McCormick said. “And — even though it’s illegal — they see his chair and they discriminate because they don’t want to scuff up the floors.”
Previous property managers have requested a separate contract to cover damages to the home that may result from a wheelchair and have even raised the rent because of possible damages, Ben McCormick said.
“They are legally not allowed to discriminate, but because there’s so much competition they get away with it,” Daelee McCormick said. “I thought people would be more accommodating when I disclosed our situation, but it seems to do the opposite. We have good references with past landlords and with (the voucher) we are guaranteed to pay our rent on the first of the month, but it’s just been really hard to even find a place for us.”
Ben McCormick, 27, lives in Redmond with his father, who is currently his main caretaker, and Daelee McCormick makes the drive every day to see her husband for a few hours.
After a bout with a pressure sore that left him in bed for four months, Ben McCormick recently got to celebrate his improving health with an overnight binge watch of “Grey’s Anatomy” in Bend with his wife. They are also making plans to see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and are looking forward to camping again in warmer weather — just normal things for a couple, she said.
The two will continue to search for a home where they can live together. In the meantime, they find joy in small things like video calls, their three dogs and Ben McCormick’s improving fine motor skills, Daelee McCormick said.
Shortly after Ben McCormick’s accident, doctors and nurses told his family that he wouldn’t be able to brush his own teeth or comb his hair, his wife said. They even doubted that he would be able to breathe on his own.
“They said he wouldn’t be able to lift his arm on his own, and now look at him,” she said, as he lifted his right arm to rub his nose.
“They are both extremely resilient,” said Ben McCormick’s mom, Sheri. “This is the first holiday season they haven’t been living together. But they’re so resilient.”
Now Ben McCormick can lift his arm and put it around his wife as they continue to search for a home.
— Reporter: 541-617-7829, firstname.lastname@example.org