Lately I’ve heard, and been involved in, a lot of discussions centered around housing for individuals with disabilities. Solutions range from homes owned by a trust to entire communities built and run by non-profits, with a host of other options in between. According to the Social Security Administration, the principle place of residence is not considered as a countable asset when applying for Social Security benefits; so wouldn’t it make the most sense to just have the individual with a disability own the property – voila, problem solved! Right?
Wrong, because although the property does not count as an asset in the eyes of Social Security; if it is owned by the individual with a disability it is their asset – they will have full responsibility for it. This can be a liability and a concern for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, who may not understand what they are liable for. So other solutions need to be found.
Group homes used to be the only way to go if you didn’t want to use an institution or have the child live with you. Now, laws have been passed limiting the number of individuals allowed to live in a house – eliminating Group homes. Although it is no doubt a scary proposition for families, it should be seen as a positive. Individuals with disabilities have a right to their privacy, when they want to eat, etc; just as much as those without disabilities do. The obvious exception is if they are at risk of causing harm to themselves or others, but again this isn’t limited to individuals with disabilities.
So what are families to do? The Center for Independent Futures offers a variety of solutions, and although they are based in Illinois their ideas may be applied anywhere. As with anything else, people need to be aware of potential pitfalls. If a special needs trust owns the house property tax waivers may not be provided, requiring the trust’s assets to be used to pay taxes. Families who own properties through a LLC may find they cannot recoup their investment when they are ready to leave, because they have to find someone to buy them out. These are just a few examples, and are NOT meant to discourage anyone from using these models. It’s strictly to ensure people understand the PROS and the CONS; because I’ve found often the PROS are stressed and the CONS glossed over.
I encourage parents and families to download the free guide (click here) The Center for Independent Futures offers (it comes in Spanish as well) and discuss what will work given their circumstances. The worst thing to do is nothing. Talk to the family member with the disability, determine what they want – really listen. If they don’t want a roommate, or a roommate with a disability, respect their wishes. When exploring options don’t hesitate to seek out professional advice – it’s unrealistic to think you will be able to do all of this on your own; and frankly you shouldn’t have to. This is new ground for all of us, the landscape continues to evolve and I for one am very excited about the opportunities it presents for my son!