For many people, finding the right home is a matter of budget, neighborhoods and schools, of the right style, or enough bedrooms and bathrooms. But for those who are disabled, there are even bigger considerations that outweigh everything else: affordability, availability, and accessibility.
Individuals with disabilities need a home where they can live independently and safely. Yet it’s not always easy to find affordable, accessible, and available housing that is a good fit. Even worse, people with disabilities may face discrimination when seeking housing, making it all the more difficult to find a place to live.
In this guide, we’ll explore the best tips and resources for finding disabled housing. From affordability to retrofitting, modifications, and helpful programs, you’ll find all of the information you need to live in a safe, accessible place you’ll be proud to call home.
Disabled individuals often have specific housing needs, like accessibility considerations, that may make finding affordable housing difficult. After all, accessible home renovations are typically expensive, and it may be difficult to not only locate, but afford, a home or apartment that offers a comfortable lifestyle.
Fortunately, there are a number of programs and opportunities that enable disabled individuals to find affordable (and accessible) housing.
- Contact state or local housing agencies and disability agencies to learn more about affordable, accessible housing in your area.
- Start your housing search as soon as possible, as you may have to be put on a housing wait list.
- Apply for Certain Developments Vouchers. These vouchers are offered to non-elderly families that include a person with disabilities, who do not currently receive housing assistance in certain developments where owners establish preferences for, or restrict occupancy to, elderly families, to obtain affordable housing.
- Identify disability-friendly roommates on FindMyRoommate.org, an online matching service for people with disabilities.
- Look for Section 811 Supportive Housing.
- Apply for Housing Choice Vouchers, which assist disabled people in affording decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.
- Consider applying for a home with Habitat for Humanity.
- Learn about local renting information to find state or locally sponsored programs that can help disabled individuals with housing.
- Apply for USDA Housing Assistance programs if you plan to live in a rural area.
- Individuals with HIV/AIDS can find assistance from Housing Opportunities for Persons with Aids (HOPWA).
- Need assistance? Search for a Center for Independent Living or assisted living for young adults.
Disabled individuals may be unable to work full time or part time, relying on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or other alternative means of income. According to the Priced Out in 2012 study, there is a significant gap between what individuals on SSI can afford to pay for housing, and the average cost of modest housing units. In fact, in many local housing markets, one bedroom rents cost more than 100% of monthly SSI benefits, making it entirely impossible for disabled individuals on benefits to afford housing.
- Apply for Section 8 Rental Vouchers. Under Section 8, non-elderly disabled families have the opportunity to rent affordable housing.
- Use Housing and Urban Development’s low rent apartment search to find affordable apartments for people with disabilities.
- Look into public housing, which offers assistance to low-income and disabled residents.
- Contact your local Public Housing Agency (PHA) for public housing assistance, programs, and vouchers specific to your area.
Disabled veterans have made an incredible sacrifice for their country, and there are a number of programs designed to support former servicemembers who need help with housing. Government housing grants and nonprofit groups offer help with buying, building, and finding homes for disabled veterans. These are a few resources for finding housing help for disabled veterans:
- Disabled veterans may qualify for special housing grants, including Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) and Special Housing Adaptation (SHA).
- Disabled veterans may also qualify for a specially adapted home at no cost through Homes for Our Troops.
- Get help from Purple Heart Homes USA. The program provides housing assistance for veterans from all conflicts.
Affording disabled housing may be within reach thanks to government and nonprofit programs, but actually finding available, accessible space is its own challenge. Persons with disabilities may require certain home modifications, like single floor units, lowered counters, wide hallways, and bathroom supports that are not always available. How can disabled individuals seek out homes that will be accessible, safe, and facilitate independent living?
- Know your needs: if you’re in a wheelchair, you may need a roll-in shower, wide hallways, or even an elevator.
- Search for accessible real estate listings on specialized websites, such as Barrier Free Home or AccessibleProperties.net.
- Consider the location of your home: it should be close to family, friends, or health care workers that can provide support.
- Know your rights under the Fair Housing Act: it is illegal to discriminate against a person in the sale or rental of housing due to disability. Renters are entitled to make reasonable modifications to a house or apartment, provided they are willing to pay for the modification.
- Know your Section 504 rights. These provide for nondiscrimination, program accessibility, federally assisted non-housing facilities, reasonable accommodation, physical accessibility, and other disability civil rights laws.
- Seek out a realtor who has experience finding disabled housing, as they may better understand your needs and available resources.
- If building a home, seek out a builder or architect that applies universal design principles.
- Seek out housing that falls under fair housing accessibility laws. In covered multifamily housing consisting of 4 or more units with an elevator built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, all units must have accessible features including accessible entrances and routes, light switches, and usable kitches and bathrooms.
- Look for a home on a relatively level site with paved walkways and a ground level entrance without any major obstructions. Doorways, hallways, bathrooms, and the kitchen should have additional clearance space.
In some situations, it may be necessary to make modifications to an existing home to accommodate a disability. Individuals who are newly disabled or who have recently had a change in disability may find that their homes are no longer safe or accessible, requiring retrofitting. This can be a costly, but necessary, process. Read on to learn about your rights, resources, and considerations for retrofitting an existing home to make it more accessible.
- Understand your rights: under the Fair Housing Act, persons with a disability are allowed reasonable modifications of existing premises.
- Contact the Aging & Disability Resource Center to get help finding a company that can provide you with home modification services.
- Work with Rebuilding Together, a program that helps people with disabilities adapt their homes for independent living.
- Visit the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification to learn how you can plan home modifications and find agencies and organizations near you that can help.
- Contact the USDA Rural Development Office to learn about loans and grants for very low-income homeowners that enable repairs, improvements, and modernization to remove health and safety hazards.
- Look for state Assistive Technology programs, which may be able to provide you with a low-interest loan for assistive technology, home modifications, or home adaptations.
- Learn about home modification and repair funds under the Older Americans Act on Edlercare.gov.
- Find out if home modifications qualify for Medicare or Medicaid funds.
- Consider taking out a home equity line of credit, reverse mortgage, or a second mortgage to pay for home modifications. You may be able to qualify for a loan under the HUD Home Improvement Loan Program or other assistance programs, or qualify for assistance under local programs or veterans’ assistance programs.
- Remember that you may be able to deduct the cost of home modifications from your taxes.
- Contact Infinitec to learn more about resources that can help you pay for home modifications and assistive technology.
- Seek out a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist to get help designing an accessible home for your individual needs.
Continuing to live in your own home rather than a newly designed living space is often preferable, but may be dangerous if your home is not adapted to your needs. Disabled individuals may need to make accessibility changes to make living at home easier and safer. Consider these home modifications that can help with lowered mobility, balance problems, and diminished vision and hearing capabilities.
- Add non-slip pads or strips to rugs and stair treads to avoid falls.
- Telephones should be easily accessible, especially near your bed, sofa, and chair. It’s best to have a telephone available in every room. Consider going wireless so that phones can move with you around the house. You may also want to consider a medical alert system.
- Improve lighting with large windows or overhead lighting to address visibility for persons with low vision.
- Install audio and visual smoke detectors.
- Install handrails on both sides of stairs for support if you have difficulty climbing stairs.
- Provide a direct access to an emergency exit available from the main bedroom.
- Avoid trips with low-profile flooring including tile, hardwood floors, or low-pile, thinly padded carpeting.
- If you are unable to climb stairs, consider installing a stairway chair lift or elevator.
- Identify any changes in floor level that may need to be evened out.
- Add lighting fixtures to dark stairways, and be sure to remove all clutter from stairs.
- Install a vertical pole next to the chair or sofa for assistance standing.
- Installing grab bars on bathroom walls can help individuals feel more steady on slippery surfaces. Shower seats and non-skid strips will also help. Installing grab bars may require wall reinforcement.
- Install a hand-held shower head with an adjustable height.
- Add a seat to the shower for a safe place to sit.
- Adjust bathroom mirrors for sitting or standing view.
- Provide direct access to accessible bathroom from bedroom.
- Elevate toilet height with an underseat riser or portable seat.
- See better in the kitchen and avoid accidents by adding additional lighting, including task lighting, in kitchen work areas.
- Add a sturdy step stool with a holding rail to access out of reach items.
- Ensure that you have a smoke detector and fire extinguisher in the kitchen to prevent fire damage.
- Move your bedroom and bathroom to the first floor of a multi-story home, if needed.
- Install reinforced ceiling to accommodate lifting mechanisms if needed.
- Faucet handles and doorknobs that are difficult to turn can be replaced with lever handles.
- Install ramps to facilitate entry with a walker, cane, or limited mobility.
- Make it easier to open the front door with limited mobility by adding a space where you can place packages.
- Install a flashing light or sound amplifier to indicate the doorbell for those with visual or hearing problems.
- Install no-trip thresholds that do not require steps.
Disabled individuals using a wheelchair have special considerations when modifying a home. Adding space to hallways, doors, and living areas is typically the most necessary change needed. But other home modifications, including changing the height of countertops, light switches, and even peepholes can make any home safer and more comfortable for wheelchair-bound individuals.
- Homes will need to have wider doorways and hallways, more open, clear spaces, lowered countertop heights, and light switches and electrical outlets that can be reached easily.
- Switch heavy carpeting with low-pile, thinly padded carpeting or smooth surfaces like tile or hardwood flooring.
- If you have a two-story home, install an elevator or chair lift to access the top story.
- Facilitate accessibility to your bedroom and bathroom by moving them to the first floor of a multi-story home.
- Look for uneven floors that may cause dips and difficulty moving about, making sure that they are level.
- Switch doors to swing out, especially in the bathroom.
- Elevate or lower washing machine and dryer as needed, and build a counter for sorting and folding clothes. Adjust clothesline to a convenient height if applicable.
- Install a peephole at an appropriate height.
- Adjust mailbox to an accessible height.
- Add a surface where you can place packages when opening the front door.
- Install ramps if you have to walk up steps to get access to your home.
- Consider installing an automatic door if you need help getting in your home.
- Install flush thresholds to facilitate entry into your home.
- Install a shower seat, or a roll-in shower with no curb.
- Modify the height of bathroom shelves and countertops.
- Widen bathroom space for a 5′ square area: the space needed for most wheelchair users to make a 360 degree turn.
- Cut out a roll-under vanity top.
- Modify the height of sinks and countertops, as well as appliances if needed.
- Install appliances with front controls and operations.
- Add knee clearance under kitchen countertops by removing doors or shelves.
- Adjust clothing racks, shelves, and cabinets to chair height.
- Closets should have sliding doors or bi-folding doors, adjustable shelves and hanging rods, and shallow shelves no more than 18″ deep.
Government agencies, nonprofits, directories, vouchers, grants and more. If there’s a resource that can help you find, pay for, or modify your home to accommodate a disability, it’s here.
- Housing Discrimination Complaint Form: If you believe your civil rights have been violated when trying to rent a home or apartment, you can file a housing discrimination complaint online.
- Housing Grants for Disabled Veterans: Disabled veterans may qualify for grants that apply to building, remodeling, and paying for accessible homes.
- Homes for Troops: The Homes for Troops organization provides specially adapted homes for severely injured post-9/11 veterans.
- Purple Heart Homes: Purple Heart Homes provides assistance with home ownership and aging in place to disabled veterans of all conflicts.
- Rebuilding Together: This organization provides home rehabilitation and modification services to homeowners in need.
- Home Access Program: Under this intiative, you can find realtors who can assist in the search for a handicap accessible home, as well as consultants who can modify a current home.
- Barrier Free Home: Visit this website to easily find a wheelchair-accessible home.
- HUD Property Improvement Loan Insurance: Get help with your home modification loan from HUD.
- HUD’s Public Housing Program: Find safe rental housing for persons with disabilities through HUD.
- How to Apply for a Habitat for Humanity House
- National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification: Find home modification services, providers, and resources in this online directory.
- Accessible Space, Inc.: This nationwide nonprofit housing and service provider offers assistance to adults with physical disabilities.
- Certain Developments Vouchers
- Section 8 Rental Vouchers
- Local Public Housing Agency (PHA) Search
- Local Renting Information
- Housing Choice Vouchers
- USDA Housing Assistance
- USDA Very Low-Income Housing Repair program.
- Section 911 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities Program
- State Assistive Technology programs
- Aging & Disability Resource Center
- National Association of Home Builders Aging-in-Place Remodeling
- Eldercare.gov Home Modification and Repair Funds
Visit these websites to find more information and resources for disabled housing support.
- Eldercare.gov: Home Modifications
- Homemods.org: Housing Highlights: Home Modification and Repair
- Rebuilding Together: Safe at Home Checklist
- National MS Society: Affordable Accessible Housing
- Disability Rights in Housing
- Find an Apartment That is Handicapped-Accessible
- Easter Seals Accessibility Checklist
- ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia Home Modification FAQ
- Long Term Care: Where You Live Matters; Staying in Your Home