People with Disabilities Move into Their Own Homes; Little NIMBY Opposition Reported

Community-based efforts to help people with disabilities own their homes are spreading across the United States. Growing numbers of people with disabilities are signing leases, acquiring mortgages, and taking possession of their own homes in eight st ates, including New Hampshire, the birthplace of this movement.

These efforts are part of a broader shift away from the traditional model of professional services that segregates people with disabilities in what some call institutional ghettos. The new model seeks to provide resources and supports that will allow pe ople with disabilities to control their own lives and participate to the fullest extent in their communities.

Funding for down payments on homes and closing costs, technical assistance, and community supports are being provided through the collaborative efforts of federal and state housing and human service agencies, local bankers and realtors, secondary mortgag e insurers, private foundations, and disability advocates.

In 1991, the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire received $300,000 to launch the Home of Your Own demonstration project. The money came from the Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) of the U.S. Department of Health a nd Human Services. Over the past three years, the project has helped twenty-five people move into their own homes. All the individuals have mental or physical disabilities (some have both) and had been living in group homes, supported-living situations, or with family members.

The project initially encountered various barriers, including lenders' conservative underwriting standards. The most important barriers, however, were the attitudes of everyone involved and their lack of experience with the process.

"When we first got into this, we realized it was a risk," said Jay Klein, the social worker who directed the New Hampshire project. "We had never done this before. The people who were buying their own homes had never even thought about it ... or never thought it was going to be possible. People's families didn't think it was possible. The banks didn't think it was possible, or weren't sure."

John Maclntosh, an attorney who worked on the project, recalls some of the initial financial uncertainties. "One of the most difficult challenges that we encountered was how to get the banks, the secondary mortgage market, and the private insurers like General Electric Corporation to understand that someone who receives assistance by way of Supplementary Security Income (SSI) and state supplement, and also receives Medicaid waiver money, is as good a risk as someone who might be employed by a major com pany."

Dr. Jan Nisbet, director of the Institute on Disability, said, "The collaboration of attorneys, financiers, bankers, and real estate people helped us realize that, with some creative financing, this could be an option for people with disabilities."

A second ADD grant helped create The National Home of Your Own Alliance in 1993. Based at the Institute on Disability and headed by Jay Klein, the Alliance is now providing technical assistance to initiatives in eight states: Illinois, New Hampshire, Ne w York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Idaho, and Oregon. It plans to work with twelve more states by the end of 1998. The Alliance also conducts policy analysis and resource development, and provides information and referral services through a natio nal 800 number.

"Each state is at a different level," said Cathy Ficker Terrill, who handles strategic planning for the Alliance. Illinois, for example, conducted its own pilot program over the past two years with funding from the state Planning Council on Developmenta l Disabilities. So far, the program has helped fifteen new homeowners get down payment assistance from the Illinois Housing Development Authority and other sources. Ten more deals should be closed by March, 1995.

Starting in January, 1995, the Illinois Planning Council will begin training workers to preform home ownership counseling at community service offices around the state. The Illinois Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities may ev entually fund twenty-one such positions.

"We want to create expertise in local communities on housing issues," said Thomas Cook of the Illinois Planning Council. "A lot of money for down payment assistance is available, but it's going unused because people with developmental disabilities don't have the assistance they need to access those funds."

One new source of funding is the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae. Terrill noted that, earlier this year, Fannie Mae agreed to back and purchase home mortgage loans to people with disabilities who depend on SSI checks and other non-t raditional sources of income. Another source of affordable mortgage loans is banks and savings and loan associations, which now are required by the Community Reinvestment Act to address the mortgage credit needs of their communities.

These new sources of assistance for people with disabilities to move into the mainstream of society should encourage all who are concerned about the NIMBY syndrome. Terrill and others interviewed for this article said that there has been little or no co mmunity opposition thus far to these developments. Existing single-family homes are less likely to arouse concern than a group home, and the homes are carefully selected residences that need minimal external rehabilitation.

On the other hand, disability advocates are well aware of the limited nature of the current initiatives. "There is no one program that works for everybody,"' Terrill said. "Some like group living. For people who choose this [moving into their own home s], we would like to be able to make their dream come true."

Those who do best are motivated to live in their own homes, have a history of living successfully in community-based settings, and have gotten commitments for the support services they will need to make the transition to controlling their personal space and activities.

But the number of people involved is quite small compared to the national need for individual housing and supports. In 1990, just one percent of people with disabilities owned their own homes and only twelve percent leased their own apartments, Klein no ted. More recent figures indicate that nationwide, only about 33,000 disabled people lease or own their own homes. Cook pointed out that in Illinois alone, about 15,000 people are currently waiting just for traditional services.

Clearly, we have a long way to go to transform our society's attitude toward people with disabilities and end their exclusion from everyday community life. A Home of Your Own is a promising new initiative.

By Adam Scheffler of The NIMBY Report November/December 1994

Copies of the Institute on Disability's video, A Home of My Own, are available for $20 from the National Home of Your Own Alliance, telephone: (800) 220-8770. A brochure on the Alliance and technical literature are also available. A nationa l resource directory may be available in early 1995.

Other resources:

John O'Brien, "Down Stairs That are Never Your Own: Supporting People With Developmental Disabilities in Their Own Homes," Mental Retardation, Vol. 32, No. 1 February, 1994, pp. 1-6.