Module 6. Creating a Housing Plan

We have discussed why a Housing Plan must be Person-Centered, the different types of Housing that may be available, and how to pay for them and to provide support to a person seeking to live in the community. Armed with this knowledge we can begin to create a Housing Plan for the person.

Person-Centered Planning (PCP)
PCP needs to acknowledge the hopes and aspirations of the person, while being firmly rooted in the practical.  True person-centered approaches are not confined to planning, they should infuse all aspects of services and supports. The Self-Advocacy slogan “nothing about us without us” sums up the approach perfectly.

Planning for housing begins with the person. As the plan takes shape it will need to address some fundamental housing questions – “rent or buy?”, “alone or with others?” and as those choices are addressed and expressed in practical terms, the range of options is progressively defined and simplified.

Following the path laid out in this Guide, the first step is to review and inventory the assets, income from private and public sources and eligibilities and entitlements that people may be able to mobilize in their search for their own home.  It is recommended that they consult with a Benefit Specialist to ensure that they have optimal access to all of the options available to them.  Benefits Advisement” is a service provided through ACCES-VR, through OPWDD’s Family Support Services and through Fee for Service providers. This evaluation will help persons and their families to answer one of the most important questions in their search for housing: “Is it in my best interest to obtain housing through the certified group home system or will I be better served by putting together my own plan for Independent Housing?” 

Who is on Your Team?

School Transition Officer
Many school transition officers are not familiar with non-certified housing options or the necessity to begin planning for housing at an early stage. However, transition services are an entitlement, and if the school is made aware of the need and the resources, they should include housing information and planning in their transition services. This planning is especially important for students who have I/DD who are in institutional or congregate Foster Care who may have no prospect other than homelessness once they leave the Foster Care system

Care Manager (CM)
“Your Care Manager will share his or her knowledge of available resources to help you make informed choices. He or she will make referrals, find service providers, offer housing options.  He or she also will coordinate how you receive your supports, including through both natural supports and funded services”[1]. The CM is a benefit coordinator and should assist with SNAP, SSI, SSDI, Medicaid compliance and recertification.

Self-Direction Broker
Your Self Direction broker will help to create your residential budget, including rental subsidies and transition funding, wrap-around supports and convene your Circle of Support.

Fiscal Intermediary
A person who is using Self-Direction must connect with a Fiscal Intermediary (FI). The FI will be the conduit for Medicaid and State funds, accounting and reporting, and is required if a person intends to employ a Live-In Caregiver, obtain Community Transition Services, or get help with moving expenses among other supports.

Housing Subsidy Coordinator
Each DDRO has an OPWDD staff person who is responsible for coordinating rental subsidies in their region. They can also provide you with a list of provider agencies who administer rental subsidies. Housing Subsidy contracts require housing standards be maintained.

Provider Agency
Whether you choose to have support from an agency, or to self-hire your staff or somewhere in between it is advisable to partner with a provider agency while your housing search is underway. They may be able to help with staff planning and rental issues, connecting to housing and connecting with other people seeking the same housing solutions.

Benefit Adviser
Managing a person’s benefits and optimizing their income can be extremely complicated. Professional Benefit Advisers are frankly essential to avoid easy to make mistakes that could shut off benefits, perhaps for good. Advisers can help to highlight incentives for a person to be employed while remaining secure.

Assistive Technology Adviser
Assistive or Enabling Technology runs the gamut from a free app to high-cost Durable Medical Equipment (DME). It is important to review the appropriate, sustainable technology that a person might need. Given the breadth of capabilities and costs of technology today it is helpful to have a professional Assistive Technology professional as part of the team.  

Housing Navigator
As noted in the introduction, Housing Navigation is a focused, outcome-oriented, and time-limited service that helps people with I/DD who need or want to move to community-based housing to obtain and maintain stable, long-term housing of their choice. To find a Navigator go to https://nyhrc.org/directory.php

All of these professionals are compensated for their time. While it is necessary to bring a group together for some meetings it is usually far more productive to meet one-on-one, or in small groups.

Deciding on Independent Housing
Independent or non-certified housing can take as many forms as there are people seeking it. The primary differences from the certified settings described above are that supports tend to be less intensive, although not universally so. Settings tend to be smaller, typically three to four people or less. Property is independently owned, either by a commercial landlord, by the person themselves or by a for-profit or non-profit housing corporation. The provision of accommodation is separated from the provision of services, meaning that the agency that provides support services does not also own or control the home where services are provided.  This means that if a person likes where they live but they are not satisfied with the services provided by a provider agency, they can choose to have services from a different provider. Conversely, if they want to move to a different location but wish to retain the service provider, they have the option to do so. People are not locked into a legacy group home model. There are people with I/DD who live alone and receive a few hours of support per week, and there are people who live in partnership with two or three others, with caregivers living alongside, and who receive around the clock support. The key is flexibility, and the ability to adjust service and support levels when necessary, or to fade them out if the needs become less critical.

The choice as to whether to opt for the legacy group home or the independent route is to some degree left to people and their families. Families should do their own due diligence on both types of housing as described in Part 2 of this Guide. The legacy congregate model tends to be more costly to the taxpayer and as such is increasingly rationed in an era of attention to budgets and growing demographic pressures on supported housing. While OPWDD describes congregate care as a “choice,” it is a choice dictated and rationed by the state budget and regulatory considerations, rather than an option that is available to all.

In 2003 the late, and much missed, Allen Schwartz Ph.D., working for OMRDD, created a graphic (Figure1) that illustrates the change in how services will be delivered in the future. In the traditional model on the left, funding is directed to provider agencies that create programs which people with I/DD attend. Programs may be well designed and implemented but they will be from a set menu. In the Self-Directed environment on the right, the funding flows to the individual, and they have the choice as to whether they purchase services from an agency, or use alternative means to provide their support.  Given the direction of best practice research, financial demands of a broadening demographic, and federal and state policy the agency-based model of home ownership and service provision is unlikely to continue indefinitely.

  • Planning for Independent Housing

After a careful review of the pros and cons of certified housing versus independent housing, if a person chooses to seek independent housing, they should consider the steps we have outlined so far:

  1. Review the resources that are available to them, including employment plans and prospects, and seek help from a Benefit Adviser.
  2. If eligible, apply for SSI, Medicaid, ACCES-VR, and OPWDD services, Care Coordination, Medicaid Waiver and SD. Establish qualification for HUD benefits and other low-income benefits, and the level of availability. These steps are vital, and while cumbersome they can be negotiated with the help of qualified eligibility specialists, funded through OPWDD, or available on a private-pay basis.
  3. Whether eligible for all of the above or not, every person seeking independent housing should conduct a thorough review of their resources from government benefits, private income from work, and support from a trust or from friends and family in cash or in kind. Bear in mind that support in the form of in-kind food, rent or shelter may compromise public benefits.
  4. If a person has assets, is likely to receive assets, is the beneficiary of a trust or seeks to establish a trust they must seek the advice of an attorney. There is much misleading information bandied about regarding trusts and housing. In order to have reliable and sound information the advice of an attorney specializing in New York Elder or Disability Law is essential.
  5. While this Guide focuses on finding the right accommodation there are other important elements to consider when making a housing plan. These include the need for staffing support, but also consideration of daily living skills (shopping, cooking, self-care), transportation needs, as well as the emotional aspects of living away from family and living with others (roommates, staff, etc.) which will need to be considered.

A thorough review process is necessary to establish how much funding is available to pay for accommodation. Typical householders are advised to spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing. People with I/DD are not typical; their income from all sources may include a mix of benefits that are tied to specific need (e.g. SNAP), or housing (e.g. HUD) and they are likely to have very low incomes, even if their Personal Resource Account (PRA) for services can reach the low six figures.  That said their income is likely to be stable. Public benefits, while occasionally in political jeopardy and subject to administrative error, tend to be stable and to keep pace with inflation. The key element is sustainability. How much will consistently be available to pay for rent or a mortgage payment and other housing costs?

  • Determining Factors for Location and Collaboration

In addition to financial considerations a person with I/DD will need to consider other factors in determining where and how they live.

  1. Urban, Suburban or Rural? Each has their advantages and disadvantages. Urban areas tend to offer greater options in employment, services, transportation infrastructure and social opportunities. They also tend to be more crowded and expensive. Suburban areas offer a slower pace of life, perhaps less expensive, but with fewer support and employment options, socialization, and access to labor for provision of Direct Support Professional (DSPs). Rural areas may offer peace and quiet, a connection to nature, lower costs and access to USDA benefits, but they can be isolating, lack services or transportation and be lonely. Idealized rural life can disappoint when the weather is gloomy and the work is hard
  2. Alone or with other people? A person might like the peace and quiet of living by themselves, or they might relish the opportunity to spend time with others. Ultimately the decision as to whether to share an apartment or a house is an economic one.  The economics are not simply determined by how much rent or mortgage one or more people can afford, but on the cost of the support staff they might need. The greater level of staff support required, the larger the impact on the budget, and the more important the task of finding and retaining staff or working with a provider agency to ensure staff continuity. In many instances it is more effective for two or three people to pool their support resources and to share staff services. The reality is that a group home is a financial construct as much as it is a social one. Sharing services requires planning for staff time, the range of services that each person receives, time spent etc.
  3. A Room of Your Own. Having one’s own room and the privacy it affords is an essential element of adult life. CMS requires that settings that receive HCBS funding have privacy, including lockable doors, but a room of one’s own is more than just the opportunity to get peace and quiet; it is a statement of a person’s independence and adulthood. Congregate care facilities will often have more than one person in a room, as it is a way to optimize revenues. The room-mates may have no choice as to who they share with. Most people would prefer to have their own room.
  4. With whom? While the factors that determine who we live with are both financial and social, there is no need to be encumbered by stereotype. People with I/DD do not need to live with other people with disabilities, and certainly not just with other people whose clinical diagnosis matches their own.  While budgetary limits might necessitate collaboration with people with similar needs it is important to have as diverse a group as possible, where one person’s strengths may balance with another’s needs. The more people are able to support each other, the less need there is for paid support, and the richer the quality of social interaction.
  • How to Connect?

A person may have grown up with a group of students with special needs, attended the same schools and the same programs. Sometimes groups form around those familiar relationships, but sometimes, and perhaps in contrast to their parent’s wishes,  the person may want to make new friends or to live with a different kind of person. Making those connections can be facilitated by social groups and social media, but there are other resources to help families to get together.

  • Self-Advocates Self-Advocacy Association of NY State (SANYS)[2] can identify a regional or local group of self-advocates, some of whom may have experience with housing or may be interested in combining their efforts with others.
  • Regional groups such as “In the Driver’s Seat“, based in Rochester, New York but covering much of western New York bring together people with I/DD seeking housing partners and Direct Support Professionals. There is clearly a demand for more such connections.[3]

 

Rent or Buy?
Now that the person and their family have thought about issues concerning budget, housemates and living costs, the next decision is whether to purchase a property or to rent.  For a typical person or family seeking accommodation the decision as to whether to rent or to buy represents an assessment of their economic security, and a judgment as to the state of the property market and the cost of borrowing. They will also consider whether they are putting down roots in a community, convenience to their employment, quality of schools, level of taxes and tax deductibility and more. Given the costs of purchasing it is a long-term decision. People with I/DD will have additional considerations.

  • Renting

In addition to the economic issues that must be taken into consideration there are other specific factors that people with I/DD need to consider. 

  1. Accessibility  Newer rental properties, particularly housing that has been built with federal or state subsidies or tax concessions may be more physically accessible to people with disabilities than older housing stock will be.
  2. Universal Design. Universal design is an approach to the development of "products and environments that can be used effectively by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design"[4]. Several counties and municipalities in the state have adopted principles of Universal Design, notably New York City, but the guidelines are voluntary. In 2012, Westchester County adopted a Universal Design protocol. The law requires that “no-step entries, one-story living spaces, wider doorways and hallways, turn-around floor space, grab bars, removable cabinets and reachable switches and controls—be designed into at least 50% of the construction of residential housing that receive support from Westchester County fair and affordable housing programs and all entities seeking to improve new residential housing units with support from County “Fair and Affordable” housing programs.”[5] This ordinance should serve as a model for other regions of the state, and possibly a state-wide initiative. It has been demonstrated that if accessibility and environmental considerations are included in the earliest stages of a development the additional cost can be offset through incentives in some cases and be immaterial in most. For more about Universal Design principles visit the University of Buffalo, New York “IDEA Center”.[6]

View the Webinar from the IDEA Center, Universal Design & Home Modifications” at https://youtu.be/s9FoGTA1z1s

  • Environmental Modifications “E-Mods”  

All new construction will comply with the ADA, and many will design to “ADA +” per Universal Design principles, but older construction and smaller housing units may need modification.  Modification may be an entry ramp, support bars, wider doorways, removal of door thresholds, or technology such as flashing lights for smoke alarms. Funding for E-mods is available to people who are receiving Waiver services from OPWDD. A provider agency as the Project Manager is central to this process. The DDRO provides the list, and the Care Manager applies to the agency to be the Project Manager.

In addition the person should work with their Housing Navigator, Care Manager, Fiscal Intermediary and if needs be an Occupational or Physical Therapist as well as the E-mods committee at their DDRO to prepare for the application to ensure that it takes into account their needs but also fits with OPWDD’s regulations requirements. “Those physical adaptations to the participant's home, required by the participant's service plan, that are necessary to ensure the health, welfare and safety of the participant or that enable the participant to function with greater independence in the home and without which the person would require institutionalization and/or more restrictive and expensive living arrangement.”[7]The Waiver sets out in some detail what modifications can be made using OPWDD funding. In addition to modifications paid for through OPWDD, New York State Department of Health (DOH) may fund “internal and external physical adaptations to the home, which are necessary to ensure the health, welfare and safety of the waiver participant” (in this case the DOH Waiver). DOH has a broad array of possible modifications mainly designed to increase accessibility, and as underlying much of public health programs, designed to enable a person to live outside of an institutional setting.[8]  NY State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR)’s “Access to Home” program, based on income and disability can provide for modifications - “Examples include: wheelchair ramps and lifts, handrails, doorway widening, and roll-in showers.”[9]  For people living in rural areas the USDA Section 504 Home Repair Loans can provide very low interest rate loans to homeowners with low incomes who need to repair or make their home accessible for a person with a disability.[10]

  • Reasonable Accommodations

“People with disabilities are protected against housing discrimination on the basis of mental or physical disability by a series of federal, state, and local human rights and civil rights laws. These laws include Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 1; the Americans with Disabilities act (ADA), 2; the Fair Housing Act (FHA), 3; the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), 4; and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL),5. Not only are people with disabilities protected from discrimination, they are also entitled to certain accommodations so that they can use and enjoy their homes”[11]. The laws governing which buildings that predate the laws can be “grandfathered” into compliance, what accommodations are reasonable and who pays, are different depending on jurisdiction and the vague nature of the term “reasonable”. Depending on perspective, a dog may be an acceptable Support/Service animal, whereas an iguana might not be. More practically, widening a door might be very expensive in an older building but necessary for a tenant using a motorized wheelchair – in which instance the landlord might prefer to offer a different more suitable apartment. Depending on jurisdiction a tenant might be required to reimburse any costs of alteration if they do not stay for some time in the apartment, and they may be required to restore the home to its original configuration when they leave. The New York State Division of Human Rights has a helpful website and is open to calls and questions.[12]

  • Discrimination  

Since 2019 it has been illegal for landlords to discriminate on the basis of a tenant’s “Source of Income” in New York State.   “Source of income” may include a HUD voucher, or an SSI check, and the landlord may not refuse to accept a tenant who relies on such public funding. In the past landlords were able to deny housing based on source of income, which was often code for racial, disability or other discrimination. The law is enforced by the NY State Attorney General’s Office through the Division of Human Rights (DHR). If a person believes they have been discriminated against on the basis of their income, they can file a complaint at the DHR website.[13]

To understand more about the rights of people with disabilities to fair housing, view the webinar “NY State Human Rights Law” at https://youtu.be/90b9rznjIbA

  • Availability  

If the service and economic reality mean that people with I/DD need to share their accommodations, then they will typically need a three, four- or five-bedroom home to accommodate each person with a room of their own, and to allow for a live-in caregiver or other staff.  They will seek a long lease. Properties that fit this description may not be readily available in the higher cost regions of the state.

  • Utilities  

Some rentals include the cost of utilities and perhaps superintendent services in the rent while others do not. Renters need to be clear as to what costs are included in the rent. If energy costs are not included, they should plan for potential energy price increases and seasonal fluctuation, and if they are in Self-Direction make sure such costs are budgeted.

  • Rents May Inflate  

Rent subsidies provided through OPWDD or DSS are based on guidelines set down by New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) on behalf of HUD and are generally modest. Private landlords are free to raise rents at each lease renewal based on rates varying between 2.5 percent and 4 percent. There is no such requirement embedded in HUD subsidies. A tenant must be careful not to be trapped by rising rents without sufficient income. As discussed in Section 3, Earned Income Disregard may provide some cushion to rent increases in housing that is supported by HUD.

The decision as to whether to rent or to buy is one that requires considerable deliberation and supporting advice. HUD counselors and social service agencies are able to provide first-time homebuyers with guidance and social service agencies can also help.  For a listing of HUD-approved Housing Counseling Agencies please visit the HUD website.[14]

Help in Renting a Home People with disabilities and people with low incomes have several programs and options open to them to assist with rental payments.

  • Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers

As discussed above these are also known as Housing Choice Vouchers, and they are applied for through the municipal and county level Section 8 offices. Currently the waitlists are long, and many offices have simply closed their waitlists.  When available, the voucher allows the person to pay only a maximum of 30 percent of their income (or SSI if they have no other income) for rent. The remainder of the rent is paid to the landlord by the Housing Authority. 

  • Public Housing

There are separate Public Housing offices in each municipality through which a person can apply for public housing units. There are also waitlists for public housing.  An important distinction between public housing and Section 8, is that with public housing, the landlord is the Public Housing Authority and with Section 8, the landlord is the owner of the property that accepts the voucher.

  • Multifamily Subsidized Housing

There are also affordable housing units known as Multifamily subsidized housing. These have typically been created through the LIHTC benefit to the developer. (See section 3). These units may have a certain number of units set aside for the elderly or for people with disabilities. If the funding is through Section 811 (see above) then the units may be exclusively for “non-elderly” people with disabilities. The landlord is the property owner and sometimes there is a property management company that acts as the primary contact. If the housing has been developed using Section 811 the developer or landlord may be required to work with a provider agency to provide support services to the people living in the “set aside” units, and to also be liable for the rent. The developer has the protection of knowing that the rent will be paid and that the people in the apartments will not be neglected. The tenants have the comfort of knowing that they will have secure tenancy and that their support needs will be addressed. However, the tenants are required to receive their services through the same single agency and may not readily have the option to switch providers. CMS in its HCBS Settings ruling of January 2014 (See part 2)[15] leaned very strongly towards the provision of smaller scale settings. While the 811 type of setting may create more affordable and sustainable housing the concentration and limitation of options must still be addressed.

Renting an Affordable House/Apartment

In addition to newspaper advertisements and personal contacts, there are several websites that can help you to search for affordable rental housing in New York State.


Independent Living Centers (ILCs) may provide registries and other housing connection opportunities. To find the ILCs in your area check the ACCES-VR website http://www.acces.nysed.gov/vr/lsn/ilc/locations.htm

Buying Considerations
Home ownership is within reach for many people with I/DD, but as with renting there are unique considerations.

  • Owning a home does not compromise social security or Medicaid benefits

If a person chooses to purchase a primary residence it does not affect their eligibility. However, if they sell the property at a future date and do not reinvest the proceeds in a primary residence, the gain on the sale may be subject not only to tax but also to a potential “claw-back” from Medicaid.

  • A person with a disability may qualify for lower Real Estate and School taxes

Certified group homes operated by non-profit corporations do not pay local taxes which is a privilege that can sometimes become a source of community friction and “NIMBYism.” Individual homeowners do pay taxes; although people with permanent disabilities may be able to pay taxes at a lower rate through a School Tax Relief (STAR) exemption.[16]

  • Maintenance

OPWDD provides funding to certified group home operators to maintain their property. However, the state is not permitted to provide funds that improve property values for an individual homeowner. The funds it provides for routine maintenance are limited to very basic items. Housing support budgets through SD may include some modest funding for upkeep but the homeowner is liable for any significant repairs.   There are several programs that can provide Home Equity style loans to help with repairs for homeowners with low income, such as the Neighborhood Preservation Company grants, available through NY State HCR[17] or a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) such as the Disability Opportunity Fund which is headquartered in Long Island but is active throughout the state.

  • Owning in partnership

Some people with I/DD have established home ownership in partnership with others. This shares the cost, but requires careful planning for an exit strategy to address what will happen when one or more of the homeowners want to move and to sell their share. After all, very few of us spend all of our adult lives in the same house. Each home ownership situation will be unique. Several home ownership groups have created their own agreements to govern how property is owned, and how a property partnership can be changed or dissolved if one member of the partnership needs to leave.  A partnership agreement should be created by an attorney, and it may need to be reviewed by the Surrogate’s Court in the event that any of the persons involved are subject to guardianship. 

Home ownership is the American dream for many people. There are also economic incentives to purchase such as assistance in down payments, deductibility of interest and potential accumulation of equity. For people who are reliant on public funding though, the accumulation of equity is not necessarily a significant benefit at this time, given that they may forfeit such equity to Medicaid. Interest deductibility from income taxes is irrelevant if income is extremely low. Property ownership in partnership with others requires significant effort at the outset to ensure that each partner’s interests are protected in the event that one partner wishes to sell their share.  Considerable attention must be paid to providing for conflict resolution, and to governance. 

Buying a home
After a thorough review of a person’s assets, income and choices of where to live, with whom, and how to obtain services, the person may decide they want to buy their own home rather than rent. Or, they may have spent some time renting, and decided that they want to put down deeper roots and that they are ready to own their own place. 

  • Budget sustainability

A person’s budget will need to address not just the costs of a mortgage, but the cost of real estate taxes, insurance to cover each homeowner and partners, and perhaps to cover any liability to visitors. The most significant additional item is the cost of maintenance. “Murphy’s law” holds that if something can go wrong it will, and it seems that every new homeowner inherits an (unexpected) failing boiler/water heater/roof, etc. Expenses can be significant and untimely. As previously noted, state-based budgets do not allow sufficient funds for maintenance. The homeowner needs to begin with some funding set aside, ensure that necessary maintenance is performed, and put away a portion of funds each month to save for the eventual need to replace a major item. Sensible homeowners also carry a line of credit to be able to draw on in an emergency. For condominiums and cooperatives there are typically common charges and Home Owners Association (HOA) fees that must be included in the budget.

  • Real estate agents

A person may want to contact a real estate agent to assist with the housing search. Real estate sales professionals who have a real estate license designation have the credentials and training and are required to maintain a higher level of ethical standards.  Bear in mind that real estate agents are paid through commission from the property owner, the seller, and represent their interests. There are also “buyer’s agents” who will work for a fee for the purchaser. Real estate agents are in business to buy and sell real estate, and they will tend to want to move properties as promptly as possible. They will not readily adjust to the lengthy processes that we are accustomed to in the social services field so before engaging with a realtor a person should know their budget, their financing options and be ready to act if presented with an opportunity.   The person should speak with the broker in the office, and ask if there is anyone in that office that has experience working with people with disabilities or working with accessibility issues.  The relationship with the broker is important, as the client will be working closely with them for the duration of the housing search which could take many months.  The New York State Association of Realtors recommends interviewing at least three agents to make sure that there is a personality and skill set fit.

  • HUD Certified Housing Counselors

Some lenders may require that a homebuyer attend a course provided by a HUD certified housing counselor. The person can be an invaluable resource for income-qualifying people to access in pursuit of home ownership. There may be more than one counselor in an area, so it is important to find someone to whom the person can relate.

Assistance for first time home buyers
People with disabilities and people with low incomes can access a range of supports and financial incentives to help them to achieve home ownership.

  • Down payment

There are state programs that will help with funding for down payment and closing costs when purchasing a home. For example, the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of New York’s “Homebuyer Dream” program can provide up to $15,000 towards down payment and closing costs[18]. Municipalities and counties may also have programs that help with down payments and closing costs.

  • SONYMA Down Payment Assistance Loan (DPAL)[19] is one such program that provides funds to home buyers for down payment assistance. The funds provided are the greater of either $3,000 or 3 percent of the home’s purchase price, to a maximum of $15,000.[20]
  • Assets for Independence/Person Development Accounts (AFI/IDA) The federal Savings for Down Payment program allows a person to save earned income (not SSI) and provides up to an 8 to 1 match. Savings of $1,000 may receive a match of $8,000 for a total of a $9,000 to be used for a down payment on a home.  This program has not been funded since 2017 but could potentially be revived in future administrations.[21]
  • The Affordable Housing Corporation (AHC) issues grants to municipalities and non-profit organizations for the building or renovating of housing for those with low incomes. The corporation provide funds to promote home ownership and to revitalize neighborhoods. There are AHC grantees across the state, and the list of these can be found at the NYSHCR.ORG website. [22]
  • Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Mortgage These mortgages are insured by the Federal Housing Administration and created through commercial banks. They feature lower interest rates, low down payment options, and both fixed-rate and adjustable-rate options.  Some lenders or banks may also provide grants that can offset closing costs.  Whereas most of the low-cost mortgages above are limited in the amount that may be borrowed, and do not permit the addition of a second mortgage, an FHA loan has more scope and permits the addition of a second mortgage. This is especially important in areas where house prices are higher than average, such as New York City and the downstate counties. [23]
  • State of New York Mortgage Agency (SONYMA)[24] SONYMA provides a Low Interest Rate Program for first time home buyers. Up to 97 percent financing is available to people with low incomes and for property within a purchase price limit, which is based on the region and ranges from $283,000 in low-cost non-target areas to $799,000 in high-cost target areas for a single-family home. There are also regional income limits. [25] The annual income limit is $127,000.  These mortgages are offered through participating lenders. SONYMA has a range of programs for first time homebuyers and those seeking to remodel or create access.
  • Section 8 Home Ownership Program This program allows people who are already in possession of a Section 8 housing choice voucher to convert it to first-time home ownership through a Public Housing Agency (PHA). The monthly tenant payment is generally 30 percent of the tenant’s adjusted family income. People with disabilities receive certain preferences; for example, they do not have to be working full time to qualify, and there is no time limit on the duration of the housing subsidy. [26]

 

New Models for Housing
In the past it was assumed that any home that housed people with I/DD would be owned by a state or provider agency. As Self-Direction and Money Follows the Person have become more of an option, new ways to create housing have emerged.

  • A family or group of families owning

Families can singly or with other families combine to jointly own a home that houses their sons or daughters. The families share the property costs, upkeep and other maintenance costs, including replacement of major items like a boiler or a roof. As with home ownership by a person or persons with I/DD they have control over who provides services and supports, and much more autonomy than they would in a typical group home. This kind of arrangement requires thoughtful planning and a clear understanding of who is responsible for what and how the property owners interact with the provider(s) of services. Funding any mortgage or carrying cost is dependent on the DDRO establishing a “fair market rent” based on the typical property cost in the same area for a similar property[27], and ensuring that the amount is sufficient to cover carrying costs and “useful life” costs. Most importantly, how will the property owners resolve any differences with each other and what are their succession plans when they are no longer able to manage the property? Some families have been able to make this work, but there are many instances where the financial and social tensions that can arise from any joint business have led to the owners seeking another solution. The owners have significant responsibilities for upkeep, property management, financial management and commitment and tax reporting. They must make sure that the various stakeholders get along. Families must ensure that the people living in the home are able to leave if they wish, and if ownership is held jointly, that there are provisions to address the liquidity risk of joint ownership – there has to be a “prenup” and an exit strategy.

  • Ownership by a Limited Liability Corporation, (LLC)

Creating an LLC is a relatively easy task for an attorney. The creators of the LLC can establish a board, preferably with a majority of members who are not related to people living in the home, and board members may be able to donate professional skills. A well-planned LLC ownership will include a Memorandum of Understanding with a provider of services and may also include a relationship with a property management company. The LLC mechanism may ease the tensions that can arise from personal ownership by people with I/DD or their families. The LLC can borrow funds to purchase the property, or to improve the property. It can issue equity (for example, to a family member) to reduce the amount it needs to borrow, thus keeping carrying costs down. The LLC structure protects the residents from any Medicaid lien on their equity and there is no lien on their property when they die. The rent can be supported by OPWDD at a “fair market rent” allowing for planning for maintenance costs

These three types of ownership structure are hardly exhaustive but are the basics from which to build an ownership that is not tied to services, creates more autonomy and allows for preservation of capital. Any home ownership should only be considered after experience of living in a community and thorough planning including deep understanding of the needs and wishes of the people who might live there (and not just their parent’s wishes!).

Residential Property Management

Provider agencies that operate certified settings receive an administrative fee and an overall budget that assumes they will monitor their properties for maintenance issues, ensure payments are made in time for utilities, insurance, mortgage payments, etc. Some agencies recognize the nature of this work and create internal property management roles. As people move into non-certified homes the job of property management is assumed to be absorbed by the landlord or if they own their own property by the individual themselves or their family. For people new to property ownership or who have difficulty in tracking funds and obligations this can be a difficult task with opportunity for failure. Many non-profit and for-profit residential property management companies have little experience supporting people with I/DD. Capacity for residential property management as a distinct function for provider or other agencies should be developed as a service option. Capacity needs to be expanded, possibly through more flexible Housing Subsidy administration or an expansion of Other Than Personnel Services (OTPS) in Self-Directed budgets.

Making the Decision! There is an excellent tool for understanding the factors involved in the decision to buy or rent available on the NY Times website https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/upshot/buy-rent-calculator.html


[1] OPWDD website https://opwdd.ny.gov/access-supports/plan-your-services retrieved June 2020
[2] SANYS can be reached at http://sanys.org/
[3]Go to  https://inthedriversseat.org/
[4] (North Carolina State University, 1997).
[5] See more at: http://westchesterlegislators.com/district-14/1928-westchester-legislators-adopt-universal-design-standards-for-county-residential-housing.html#sthash.jf4o513B.dpuft retrieved April 2020
[6] Visit http://www.buffalo.edu/ubnow/stories/2019/10/universal-design.html  Retrieved July 2020
[7] OPWDD JCBS Waiver draft 2020 Page 114 ff. https://opwdd.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2020/05/draft-opwdd-hcbs-1915-c-october-2020-waiver-amendment.pdf retrieved June 2020
[8] For the range of DOH modifications see https://www.health.ny.gov/facilities/long_term_care/waiver/nhtd_manual/section_06/e-mods.htm. Retrieved June 2020
[9] Access to Home at https://hcr.ny.gov/access-home retrieved June 2020
[10] USDA Section 504 loans see https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/single-family-housing-repair-loans-grants. Retrieved June 2020
[11] From NY State Bar Association Disability Rights and Building codes of New York https://www.nycbar.org/pdf/report/uploads/20072100-DisabilityHousingRightsandBuildingCodesofNewYork.pdf retrieved June 2020
[12] NY State DHR https://dhr.ny.gov/ retrieved May 2020
[13] DHR information  at https://dhr.ny.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/nysdhr-income-source-discrimination.pdf. Retrieved June 2020
[14] Visit http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/hcs.cfm?webListAction=search&searchstate=NY
[15] HCBS Settings ruling CMS Jan 20 2014 https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2014-01-16/pdf/2014-00487.pdf. retrieved April 2020
[16] For information about the STAR and Enhanced STAR exemption visit https://www.tax.ny.gov/pit/property/star/default.htm  Retrieved April 2020
[17] NY State HCR Neighborhood Preservation Program https://hcr.ny.gov/neighborhood-and-rural-preservation-programs retrieved March 2020
[18] https://www.fhlbny.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/06/hdp-003.pdf retrieved June 2020
[19] http://www.nyshcr.org/Topics/Home/Buyers/SONYMA/DownPaymentAssistanceLoan(DPAL).htm retrieved June 2020
[20] http://www.nyshcr.org/Topics/Home/Buyers/SONYMA/DownPaymentAssistanceLoan(DPAL).htm retrieved June 2020
[21]https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs/programs/afi   retrieved June 2020. NEW LINK: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs/programs/afi
[22] https://hcr.ny.gov/affordable-housing-corporation-0   retrieved June 2020
[23] https://www.fha.com/fha_loan_requirements    retrieved June 2020
[24]https://hcr.ny.gov/sonyma-programs#overview   retrieved June 2020
[25] https://hcr.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2021/01/application-kit-for-pi-pf-cp.pdf retrieved June 2020
[26] https://hcr.ny.gov/section-8-home-ownership-program-0 retrieved June 2020
[27] Not to be confused with Fair Market Rent (“FMR”) HUD’s rental support standard see https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/fmr.html Retrieved May 2020