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Guide to Buying a Home of Your Own for People with Disabilities

Owning one's own home is part of the American dream, the dream of living independently and the ability to build assets toward a secure future. Is it possible for a person with a disability to own their own home? While purchasing a home is certainly more challenging for individuals with disabilities, it is possible.

There are many additional resources available to aide the disabled home buyer. As there are many people and caregivers unable to locate community-based housing, we hope the following Guide to Buying a Home of Your Own for People with Disabilities will benefit our readers.

The purpose of this guide is to provide information for people with disabilities who are 18 to 59 years of age, and does not necessarily offer information specifically for the elderly.

New Horizons Un-Limited assumes no responsibility in guaranteeing the services, programs or conditions as described. If you are interested in a resource listed below, call or contact the resource to verify the current situation. Evaluate information and make your own decisions when using this guide.

Guide to Buying a Home of Your Own for People with Disabilities

How bleak is the housing issue for people with disabilities? The House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Concerns stated that the overall homeownership rate for all people in the United States is approximately 67%, with some minorities registering as low as 20%. However, for people with disabilities the National Home of Your Own Alliance reports that less than 5% of all people with disabilities who receive social security income benefits own their own home.

Why do so few people with disabilities choose a home as a housing option? IndependenceFirst of Milwaukee reported that a 1998 national Louis Harris poll, commissioned by the National Organization on Disability, found that 34% of people with disabilities have annual household incomes of $15,000 or less. People with disabilities have too low of income to save for a downpayment or afford monthly house payments.

To make matters worse, rental housing has become an expensive housing option as well. HUD recently reported that rent prices increased more than twice the rate of national inflation in both 1997 and 1998. In "Priced Out in 1998", the CCD Housing Task Force reported that there is not a single housing market in the United States, where a person with a disability receiving SSI benefits can afford to rent a modest efficiency apartment and nowhere can an SSI recipient rent a one-bedroom apartment for less than 50% of his or her income. For more information, see NHU's editorial Is There a Housing Crisis for People with Disabilities?

The new American Homeownership and Economic Opportunity Act has allowed that the Section 8 Housing Choice voucher, used to pay for rent in the past, now has a Homeownership option. HUD has increased the Section 8 vouchers targeted for those who are disabled and the home-and-community-based-waivers (HCBW) eligible to home mortgage payment programs subsidized with vouchers.

There are still required qualifications so this option will not be available to everyone. However, for the qualified homebuyer family, the monthly voucher subsidy for rent payment can now be used toward a mortgage payment. In the past, for people with disabilities, seeking home ownership, the only financial options have been discounted interest rates and downpayment grants and loans. This program is a step toward providing innovative ways for people with disabilities to use the few resources they have available to them to obtain housing. For more information on "Home Choice," see the resources under Financial Options below.

Why is homeownership a desirable housing choice?

Owning a home means having the opportunity to live in a neighborhood of your choice. People with disabilities will now have the opportunity to invest in their housing which translates into being able to invest in their futures by building assets. People with disabilities are reported to put more of their resources into housing than their non-disabled neighbors. (IndependenceFirst) With this new legislation, with the same monthly payment one used for rent, people can build equity in their own home.

Buying a home is a challenging process for people with all abilities.

They say that finding and buying a home is one of the most stressful activities people undertake in their lives. Buying a home requires patience, perseverance, and a great deal of planning. This is true for everyone, so the process is compounded by the additional challenges faced by people with disabilities and their families.

Some of the challenges that people with disabilities and their families face when buying a home are:

It is certainly evident that the process of finding and buying suitable housing within a community setting, is complex. Homeownership comes with responsibilities. However, this task can be accomplished by taking advantage of several resources and government programs designed to assist individuals with disabilities to explore housing options. The following comprehensive guide offers assessment tools to help you determine whether you are ready to take on buying a home and offers resources that can assist you in finding and buying a suitable home within your community.

The purpose of this guide is to begin to plan for the future by assessing your situation, identifying your needs and identifying the resources you can access to help you in the process of buying a home.

The following is a quick outline of this guide, click on the link to go directly to the section of your choice.

To begin:

Are You Ready for Independent Living?

Is buying your own home your first step toward independent living? In buying a home are you transitioning from a nursing home, institution or family home to independent living?

Many factors must be considered in making a transition to independent living. There are many other living needs besides shelter you may need to assess, such as:

These additional needs will incur costs of their own that will have a direct impact on your financial ability to buy a home. You will need to check your insurance coverage and assess your ability to pay for these needs. You will need to identify what other financial assistance is available to you. You will need to know whether you will actually be served by the assistance for which you apply. How you deal with these factors, the decisions you have to face, and the choices you make will be as varied as, and dependent on, your individual needs and abilities.

Is living independently an option for which you are ready?

One usually does not begin to look for something until one is at need. It is important however, to consider and investigate your options before you need to transition to independent living, as it may take a long time to get all the variables worked out to make the move to independent living. This is true for any individual situation. To make the transition to independent living, you need to plan well in advance, know your options and plan for the future.

The following guide can help you assess your independent living needs and offers resources that will help you get ready. See New Horizons Un-Limited's Guide to Transitioning to Independent Living.

Is Buying a Home the Best Housing Option for You?

So you may better understand the process of locating housing within the community, it may be to your greatest benefit to first research the housing options available to you at your level of independence. New Horizons Un-Limited has written a Guide to Searching for Appropriate Housing Options.

Once you determine you are ready for living independently and homeownership is the housing option for you, you can begin the task of buying a home.

Need Help Getting Started?

The first step requires that you recognize and understand your responsibilities throughout the process. While there are many non-profit organizations and government agencies designed to assist you in your housing search, in many cases, they are simply there to provide information. It is then, your responsibility, to take that information and act on it. There are many forms to fill out in buying a home, numerous legal documents to prepare and the coordination of financial resources, mortgage lenders and real estate brokers. Having a helper to help coordinate these resources may be very advantageous.

If you wish, you may utilize the assistance of a housing coordinator from your local Center for Independent Living. For the Center for Independent Living nearest you, see the NHU guide.

Following are a few items a housing coordinator will and will not do for you (this list is not exhaustive):

A housing coordinator will help you determine if owning a home of your own is the housing choice for you. Check out New Horizons Un-Limited's Guide to Searching for Appropriate Housing Options. This guide describes exactly what a housing coordinator will and will not do.

A housing coordinator will…

Many times, a CIL provides independent living skills training classes that will teach you how to perform basic living tasks, such as financial management, budgeting, cooking, cleaning and so on. These classes are strongly recommended for individuals that have never lived independently in the past.

Additionally, your financial capabilities will also determine the length and the steps involved in the process. Buying a home begins with what you can afford, what a mortgage lender will be willing to lend and how much additional financial assistance you will require.

Once your needs are assessed, the housing coordinator will then supply you with options in dealing with buying a home.

Helpful Tips on Buying a Home

Buying a home requires planning. There is a lot of legal and financial paperwork. Legal, building and financial assessments can be complicated and confusing. If you do not feel you can tackle this alone, get assistance. See how a housing coordinator can help in the section above Need Help Getting Started.

For more home buying tips on getting started, loans, types of homes, legal issues, inspections and closings, see Reality Times: Real Estate News and Advice for Consumers - Buyer's Guide.

Other Homebuying Guides for People with Disabilities

Visit the New Horizons Un-Limited page on Guides: Housing, for more homebuying guides.

Fannie Mae and the National Home of your Own Alliance offer "A Home of Your Own Guide." This guide was designed with a "people centered approach" to homeownership. This guide places people with disabilities at the center of the decision-making process on issues affecting their personal lives and living situations. How to purchase a home, responsibilities and rewards of homeownership and resources for funding and other types of assistance, answer questions about issues and barriers that specifically concern people with disabilities. To search by state for the program nearest you, click here.

New Sign Mortgage and Refinance Guide for People with Disabilities by Creditcritics.com in spite of the name this is a home buying guide with excellent resources. It includes resource links for your Rights, State Housing Authorities, Pros and Cons of Home Ownership, Types of Loans available, and Programs for People with Disabilities.

Refinance Mortgage Rates has a Refinance & Mortgage Guide for People with Disabilities. The guide seeks not only to provide the reader with the most relevant and essential resources needed to navigate the myriad of red tape and sometimes rigid processes regularly associated with real estate purchases; it also aims to educate you. To summarize, by the end of this guide you should have a basic understanding of the following:

¦The advantages and disadvantages of purchasing a home
¦Keys steps to follow in the buying process
¦The types of mortgages available to you as a home buyer
¦Financial and Legal resources available to you
¦Final tips & Warnings

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers the guide, "Buying a home." To find out more about local homebuying programs HUD offers how to contact your local government for local homebuying programs, how to contact your HOME program contact and Community Development Block Grants program contact, call a HUD funded housing counseling agency in your area to discuss your options and offers a local city's home page which offers many homebuying resources that relate directly to you in your own community. HUD also allows you to search HUD home listings by state and HUD agents by state, then city.

Wisconsin Council on Developmental Disabilities (WCCD) publishes the "Community Supported Living Series," a set of guides that assist people with disabilities in how to find supportive living in their own communities. For more information, contact David Porterfield by phone at (608)258-5560 or e-mail davidp@terracom.net.

Talk the Talk

It is very important to know the lingo, talk the talk, become familiar with the terminology associated with the home buying process. This glossary defines the terms and the options of homebuying which assists with decision making.

For some helpful terminology, see New Horizon Un-Limited's Guide to Buying a Home: Talk the Talk - Terminology for the Home Buyer which includes definitions for the following types of terms: Adaptable Housing, Visitability, Universal Design, Insurance, Mortgages and more.

Financial Options

There are many programs available to see that buying a home for the individual or families of people with disabilities can become a reality. See the NHU Guide to Buying a Home: Financial Options for information on the many financial options and programs available.

How Much Can You Afford?

Once you determine what kind of funding is available to you, you will be able to figure out how much you can afford. See the NHU Guide to Buying a Home: Financial Options for information on the many resources available to calculate what you can afford to buy a home.

Homeowner's Insurance

The lender is going to require some of the following insurance when you purchase a home. If the lender requires the insurance, they will probably add this to your monthly mortgage payment amount and hold the money in an escrow account. In the case of homeowner's insurance, you are responsible for acquiring the policy, reviewing the policy for adequate coverage and paying for the policy, although the lender may require you to pay the actual yearly payment from your escrow account.

Homeowner's Insurance

Homeowner's insurance combines protection against damage to your property, house and its belongings and protects against claims of negligence or inappropriate action concerning the property that would result in someone else's injury or damage to someone else's property. The lender may ask for proof of this insurance or will collect from you during the year in your monthly mortgage payment and will put a portion of each payment for this insurance in an escrow account. This insurance is usually required by the lender to protect their investment, however, acquiring the insurance, the terms of the insurance, reviewing the terms for adequate coverage and paying for the insurance will be your responsibility.

Flood Insurance

This insurance may not be necessary and does not come standard on a homeowner's insurance policy. This insurance protects the homeowner against loss from flood, thawing and hurricanes. If the house is located on a flood plain, the lender will require this insurance before approving a loan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines flood zones on their maps.

Mortgage Insurance

This insurance protects the lender against loss if the borrower were unable to make their monthly payment and defaults completely on their mortgage loan. If you as borrower can only make less than 15-20% downpayment for the mortgage loan, the lender my require this insurance. The 203(k) FHA mortgage insurance program helps the homebuyer to purchase and rehabilitate a house with a single mortgage loan.

Mortgage life, disability or unemployment insurance

This insurance is term life insurance that diminishes over time as you pay off your mortgage. This insurance will pay off the remainder of the mortgage if you die and pay a certain number of monthly payments if you become disabled or unemployed. If you are disabled or unemployed prior to seeking mortgage pre-approval, this insurance would not be reasonable to purchase.

Title Insurance

This insurance protects the lender against any claims that may come up about who legally owns the property. This insurance is also available for the homebuyer. A title search will check the public record to be certain the seller is the legal owner of the property and discover any liens or claims against the property. Ask your lender if this insurance will be necessary.

Personal Property Insurance

Personal property is usually covered from theft on your homeowner's insurance. Check the conditions under your homeowner's policy for coverage of theft of household goods. If you wish to cover your household goods during moving or storing in a self-storage facility, you may want to check out this insurance.

Accessible Homes and Home Modifications

Once considered a threat to the value and marketability of a home, home improvements for people with disabilities constructed with universal design techniques can now be an asset to a home. Universal design offers items to be more permanent. Changes are looked upon as safety features, rather than obstructions.

If making a home accessible is a must for you, be sure to see the guide as it includes how and when you should deal with accessibility issues and it is not, after you have made an offer on a house. For a complete look at home accessibility, home modifications and working with contractors, see the NHU Guide to Accessible Homes and Home Modifications.

Finding a Home

There are many resources that will assist you in locating the home of your choice. Many of these resources are geared toward the disabled consumer, while others are more general listings, however, you may be able to search a general listing by price or accessibility and find listings that are suitable for you. When you search, you will want to consider desirable location, neighborhood, crime rates, price of the house, HUD housing, selling history of the house, resale value, fair market value, accessibility features, and the number of bedrooms you require.

One can obtain more information from using the Internet to search for a home than one would find from the newspaper. The Internet realtors and home listers can provide valuable pricing information on recent sales and details about communities, like crime rates and school rankings. Price research helps educate prospective buyers. Price check or history over the past few years will tell a great deal about whether owners have overpriced for a few repairs they have made to the home.

You don't have to buy through a broker. Many houses are "for sale by owner." Brokers get 6% of the sale price. Owners can keep or extend this discount to the buyer when they sell. Brokers on-line will send you an e-mail when there is a house that lists in your market or neighborhood.

See the NHU resource page Housing: Assistance and Agencies: Realtors.

Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

As an individual with a disability you are afforded certain rights, not only during the search process, but also once you begin to buy a home. It is very important that you know and understand your rights so that you are not unlawfully denied reasonable consideration while seeking financial assistance, finding a prospective home and buying a home. Don't be a victim of housing discrimination

If you are buying a home through an agency or program that receives federal funding the Federal Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments protect individuals with disabilities by prohibiting businesses that are participating in these programs to refuse prospective buyers based solely on their disability.

National Low Income Housing Coalition offers education and advocacy to ensure decent, affordable housing within healthy neighborhoods for everyone. This coalition provides up to date information, formulates policy and educates the public on housing needs and the strategies for solutions.

If you feel you have been discriminated against, you should contact HUD's Fair Housing Information Clearinghouse, on-line at Complaints or by calling (800) 343-3442 or (800) 669-9777.

As you can see, much is involved in the process of searching, finding and buying a home.

Your needs will ultimately determine the ease of the search. If you need financial assistance, do not hesitate in your research. Contact either your local Center for Independent Living or Housing Agency as soon as possible, so that your eligibility can be assessed and so that you can be referred to financial assistance programs. There are many obstacles that must be overcome in locating a home. Do not feel as though you are alone, as there are many resources and organizations that are very knowledgeable in the housing process and very willing to not only offer their expertise, but their support as well.

Owning your own home will give you a greater degree of stability, control, independence and opportunity for economic participation in your community.


Some of the information offered in this guide has been derived from material provided by IndependenceFirst of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The preceding guide has been derived from the following additional sources:

"Buying a home requires planning" by Luke Klink, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, April 30, 2000.
"Homebuying is headed into cyberspace," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, WI, Mar. 19, 2000.
"Homeownership and Section 8 Vouchers" by Lee Schulz, Breaking Away, V22 #3, Fall 2001. IndependenceFirst.
"Origin of the Alliance," National Home of Your Own Alliance.
"Owning a home of your own, Expanding Our Thinking on Housing Choice," by Charlene Dwyer and Jerry Vogt, EBTIDE. Inc., Advocacy Action News, June 2001, Issue 44, IndependenceFirst.
"Priced Out in 2000: The Crisis Continues" by Ann O'Hara, Emily Miller, June 2000.
"User Friendly, Homes for the disabled" by Broderick Perkins.
"When the Mouse Meets the House" by Curtis Rist, On Magazine, August 2001, page 33-35.
National Fair Housing Advocate.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If you have questions or ideas, information and solutions that you would like to share with us, contact us by e-mail at: horizons@new-horizons.org or to use our NHU E-Mail Form or NHU Community Forum, click the links below.

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[Created July 31, 2002, Updated July 31, 2016]
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