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Housing Assistance Programs for the Disabled

Americans with physical or mental disabilities are eligible for several helpful housing assistance programs. Here's a review of major programs and the steps qualified individuals can take to use them.

Getting Started
In 1990 the U.S. Congress officially enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ensuring that Americans who suffer from mental and physical disabilities would no longer be burdened by unfair treatment within society and opening a wide range of assistance programs for disabled Americans. President George H.W. Bush stated the law's purpose succinctly: "The Americans with Disabilities Act presents us all with an historic opportunity. It signals the end to the unjustified segregation and exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream of American life."[1]

One of the greatest needs addressed by the ADA has been accessibility. Disabled Americans, especially those in wheelchairs, have very specific housing needs. Historically, America's disabled individuals have also suffered economic disadvantages, often due to limited access to jobs and other opportunities.[2] The combination of special housing needs and limited resources left many disabled Americans in a truly desperate situation. Thankfully, the federal government and private organizations have stepped in to help fill the gap.

Learn more about Federal Programs
Disabled individuals looking for housing assistance can explore federal or state government assistance programs first. There are several well-established programs that exist and are funded through federal and local governments.

Certain development vouchers exist for qualified individuals - Local public housing agencies may have vouchers for those who are disabled and those who are caring for non-elderly disabled family members. These vouchers only apply for families whose income does not exceed the low income limit, determined by either the federal standard or that of the area. These vouchers can cover the whole cost, or part of the cost, with the remainder covered by the family.

Vouchers also exist for Non-Elderly Disabled persons - Known as Non-Elderly Disabled vouchers, these vouchers provide assistance to many disabled individuals. There are two categories for these vouchers. Category 1 covers those that wish to seek housing in the private market. Category 2 covers those families who wish to transfer from a nursing or healthcare institution into a public housing. These are limited. Only 19 states issue these vouchers for Category 1, and 15 for Category 2.

Seek Social Security Disability Benefits - These benefits include those available from Supplemental Security Income, and from Social Security Disability Insurance. While in many cases acquisition of this assistance requires individuals to have worked for a minimum of 10 years, and be over the age of 65, this is not always the case. The federal government will make allowances for individuals whose disability prevents them from engaging in substantial gainful activity.

Ginnie Mae loans may help cover the cost - The Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) is a federally-funded program that helps low-to-median income families gain access to home loans. Under Section 231 of the National Housing Act of 1934, Ginnie Mae loans for disabled individuals are financially secured by the U.S. government. This helps ensure that families can stay in their homes.

Section 8 Rental Assistance is a great option - Although it does not apply specifically to disabled individuals, Section 8 rental assistance is a great help to many disabled individuals, due to the historically recognized economic disadvantages of disabled individuals and their families.

Seek Assistance from Nonprofit Organizations
Try Mercy Housing - Mercy Housing has a great track record for providing excellent housing assistance for families in need. While they do not solely work to provide housing for disabled individuals and their families, those with special needs are particularly important to them. Mercy Housing provides low-cost loans as well as assistance in finding, or building, adequate housing.

Habitat for Humanity is a viable option - Like Mercy Housing, Habitat for Humanity casts a net wider than just disabled persons. However, they have been awarded several times for their special attention to disabled persons, and provide a good alternative for individuals and their families seeking housing that is specialized for different, unique needs.

How to Apply for Assistance Programs
Your assistance program application process depends on whether you are applying to a public or private option. In either case, you will want to be sure you have a few items available. This includes, but is not limited to, your birth certificate, Social Security card or number, medical history, employment history information, bank documents and information, medical documents and any available W-2s. You should also be prepared to either have a home visit by a representative of the organization, or to make a visit to a local office.

For public options, go through your local public housing authority - Most public housing assistance programs are run through your local PHA. To find your local PHA, you can visit the Department for Housing and Urban Development's national PHA listing. The application process for certain development vouchers, Non-Elderly Disabled vouchers and can all be done through the normal Section 8 Housing Voucher program.

Social Security benefits can be obtained through the online portal - Alternatively, you call the Social Security national office at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

Ginnie Mae loans can be found through normal Federal Housing Administration lenders - When completing an FHA loan application, be sure to ask about, or inquire if the loans are guaranteed by Ginnie Mae.

For private options, go directly to the organization's website - Both Habitat for Humanity and Mercy Housing have localized administration. Each organization provides further details for where to locate information, who to call, and whether services are available in your area.

Disabled individuals and those caring for disabled family members need not be discouraged. Finding adequate housing can be a stressful experience, but many Federal, State and local, non-government organizations exist to provide aid to those who are seeking it.