Affordable housing is generally defined as housing where the occupant is paying no more than 30% of gross income for housing costs, including utility costs. ALAW has researched public funding available to help low-income persons with disabilities purchase or rent houses or apartments. Our findings indicate that funding for housing for people with disabilities is minimal and competition for funds is keen. Moreover, many public housing programs are inconsistent with the goal of having a regular house in a regular neighborhood.
Affordable housing can be catagorized into rental housing and home ownership. At the federal level, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs provide a variety of rental and home ownership subsidies. At the state level, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) provides several options for down payment assistance and home modifications. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) provides a Housing and Redevelopment Assistance program and other community revitalization programs. Additionally, each county has a Housing Authority which administers Housing Choice vouchers and a Department of Community and Economic Development which administers first time homebuyer’s assistance programs. Group homes within the Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) are another option.
HUD programs provide grant funds to large projects such as multi-family housing or planned communities, and can be used for new construction or revitalization of existing housing (Section 202 for elderly and Section 811 for disability). A skilled developer is needed to execute the application package. Access to this funding is extremely competitive, with points heavily weighted for experience in housing development. This rental model charges an affordable rent to those whose income level applies.
Housing Choice Vouchers are a program administered by county housing authorities using HUD funds. Vouchers are intended to enable low-income persons to rent apartments on the open market, with HUD subsidies closing the gap between what they can afford to pay and the rent for a modest apartment. Rental vouchers are targeted to people in the lowest income bracket: 75% of vouchers in a county are reserved for households below 30% of the median income. Only 25% of the vouchers may be given to households with 30% to 50% of the median income. Some counties offer Mainstream Vouchers, a voucher program specifically for people with disabilities.
Another type of voucher has been developed to subsidize a mortgage instead of rent. Voucher programs have long waiting lists and some counties have even closed the application process due to a severe shortage of HUD funding. In addition, recipients who are granted vouchers are often unable to find a landlord who will accept the vouchers within the time allowed, and therefore they lose out. Another major obstacle of this program is that if three SSI recipients live together in order to reduce the cost of support services, their combined income would be over the cutoff for 75% of the caseload in their county, possibly making them ineligible for a voucher. Two recipients living together would make the cutoff, but if they earned even a small amount of money by working, they too would be pushed into an income level that might make them ineligible. Eligibility is no problem for an SSI recipient living alone, but the cost of support services for people living by themselves becomes too high for anyone needing more than occasional assistance.
PHFA programs are Pennsylvania-based and include various homebuyer programs targeted to low-income individuals with disabilities. These programs typically have requirements, such as the buyer must have a full-time job and must save a certain percentage of the cost of the house for a down payment. The programs also assume that if given some purchase assistance, the buyer can afford to carry the mortgage. Such restrictions make these programs unavailable to most adults with autism, who must maintain Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligibility in order to receive the support services they require. Beneficiaries of SSI, a federal program that provides income maintenance to adults with severe disabilities, are limited in how much they can earn, and how much they can save. SSI recipients' incomes will thus remain too low to pay for the mortgage and upkeep on a house, and they are not allowed to have savings of more than $2,000, too little for a down payment. As a result, most adults with autism cannot utilize PHFA homebuyer assistance programs.
The Department of Public Welfare (DPW) currently provides housing funding through its Office of Developmental Programs (ODP), Bureau of Mental Retardation. ODP gives its service providers down payment and per person/per month assistance to purchase housing, and to retire the mortgage, for group homes the provider owns and operates. This housing model does not involve any self-determination on the part of the person with a disability, however, since the provider chooses the houses, and determines who and how many people live there. A client who becomes dissatisfied, either with housemates or with the service provider and wants to make a change, loses both a place to live and services. Under a self-determination model, a person is involved in choosing the house and the people sharing it. A client wouldn't have to move out in order to change service providers. On the other hand, if a person wanted to move, the services could follow him or her to a new home.
For an explanation of the many programs in HUD and PHFA, News on Tap’s The Philly Primer is an excellent source of programs and definitions
ALAW is pleased to announce that we were awarded a HUD Section 811 in early 2009 to build a house for four (4) adults w/ autism/ASD in West Philadelphia. We are priviledged and honored to have ALAW's President, Roy Diamond, also President of Diamond and Associates, as the lead on this project, called "Ogden Gardens"; his over twenty-five years of experience in every aspect of affordable housing will ensure this project's success!