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Around the House: Paying for Modifications

Reprinted from PN November 2001
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Several federal laws give people with disabilities the right to modify their homes, but often unless the housing is subsidized with federal funds tenants must assume the cost of these modifications.

Because many people with disabilities have low incomes, requiring tenants to pay for changes is a significant barrier to using the reasonable modification provision of the Fair Housing Act Amendments (FHAA). It is important for people with disabilities to be aware of programs that can pay for some or all of these costs.

Existing programs that provide funding for accessibility modifications are varied. Some target people with disabilities or those who are elderly, while others are limited to households at certain income levels or those below 80% of the area?s median income. Some are targeted exclusively at homeowners, while others may help renters. Many only pay up to a certain amount?such as $1,000?to assist in making a home accessible, even though the cost of the work may be much higher. Finally, some programs may give one-time grants to households to modify their homes, while others provide assistance in the form of loans through lenders or nonprofit organizations.

In some cases tenants may be able to negotiate with an owner to share the expense of making modifications. For example, a cooperative owner may be willing to pay for part of the cost if the tenant agrees to a longer lease. Owners who decide to pay for some of the cost associated with making a unit accessible may receive a federal tax credit. A few states like Virginia and Georgia offer a $500 tax credit against state income taxes for property owners who make accessibility modifications to their residential properties.

People with disabilities and their housing advocates should educate owners about these opportunities to help finance any needed modifications. Contact the Internal Revenue Service (www.irs.gov) or your state department of revenue to learn about available tax breaks.

Unfortunately, as with most affordable housing resources, programs to help make units more accessible are in great demand and can only help a small percentage of the households that need assistance. In fact, many federal programs that provide this type of financial assistance are in constant danger of losing funding or being eliminated.

Making matters worse, the limited federal funds that can be used to make units accessible are often targeted for other purposes, such as installing street lamps or first-time-buyer assistance.

It is important for the disability community to become more involved in the Consolidated Plan process and influence how these valuable CDBG resources will be used in the future.

Contact your state or local community-development department to learn more about the Consolidated Plan for your area. The Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc.?s guide ?Piecing It All Together in Your Community? and past issues of Opening Doors (www.tacinc.org) are helpful resources.

A limited number of programs provide financial assistance to people with disabilities to make their homes accessible:

? Consolidated Plan Funds. Funding controlled by the Consolidated Plan, specifically CDBGs and HOME, is a valuable resource for covering the cost of making accessibility modifications.

? State Housing Finance Agency Programs (HFAs). These are authorized by the federal government to sell tax-exempt bonds for a variety of public purposes. In some states HFAs use this ability to provide low-interest-rate loans to make accessibility modifications. Since, as with other resources, the funding is limited, it is important to learn how the Housing Finance Agency in your state makes these programs available.

? Medicaid Home- and Community-based Waivers. In many states you can use these funds to pay for accessibility modifications.

? The Department of Veterans Affairs programs. VA has many programs that provide grants to veterans with disabilities who need to make modifications to their homes. Contact the VA office in your area.

? Vocational Rehabilitation Programs. Your state vocational rehab department may provide accessibility-modification assistance. These funds usually pay for actual modifications rather than reimbursing tenants.

? Fannie Mae Retrofitting Program. Often it is easier for homeowners to finance accessibility modifications because they can use their homes as a source of equity in order to obtain loans. Fannie Mae provides targeted loan packages that may be used by people with disabilities. Contact: www.fanniemae.com.

? HUD?s Title I and Section 203K program. This provides funding to homeowners through local lenders to rehabilitate existing homes or purchase and modify new ones.

? USDA?s Rural Community Development (formerly the Farmers Home Administration). This program offers various grants and loans for low-income people living in rural communities, particularly homeowners with disabilities needing modifications to their homes.

The above information is from Opening Doors, a housing publication of the Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc., (617) 742-5657 / 742-0509 (fax) / info@tacinc.org / www.tacinc.org, and the Consortium for Citizens With Disabilities (CCD) Task Force.

 

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Around the House: Paying for Modifications

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