real estate

Programs exist for disabled homebuyers

Steve McLindenDear Real Estate Adviser,
I'm permanently disabled, but would really like to buy a home of my own. Are there any programs out there for disabled homebuyers?
-- Paul

Dear Paul,
Yes, there are some programs that can help you fulfill the dream of homeownership, but not nearly enough of them. With more than 40 million Americans living with some form of physical disability, only a small percentage experiences homeownership. Moreover, a disproportionate amount of aid is for rental assistance instead of homeownership.

Ostensibly, you're supposed to be protected by the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits providers such as lenders, sellers and real estate brokers from discriminating against disabled homebuyers. But the numbers don't support that. People with disabilities average below the 30 percent level in income and typically can't qualify for mortgages without significant help.

But don't let that deter you from exploring all options and remaining persistent with application submissions and follow-ups. Your odds will improve even more, I believe, if you enlist a family member or friend with homebuying experience to aid in your quest for inclusion. The process can be daunting for any first-time buyer, given the inherent frustrations, setbacks and reams of red tape. So please, don't go it alone.

Here's a partial list of available programs to help disabled homebuyers.

  • From the Department of Housing and Urban Development
    HUD's Homeownership Voucher Program assists disabled and low-income individuals and families by subsidizing monthly mortgage payments or rent payments through vouchers. The first step is to contact your local public housing authority, or PHA. Unfortunately, many PHAs don't offer homeownership as an option. HUD does have housing counselors in every state who are certified to assist individuals with special needs and they may be able to guide you to other programs that help fill any gaps. For a state-by-state listing of HUD-approved counselors, go to hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/hcs.cfm.
  • From the Social Security Administration
    Social Security offers a supplemental security income program called SSI to help the disabled pay expenses, including housing expenses such as winter heating bills, homemaking assistance such as grocery shopping and other supportive-living accommodations. All SSI funding is based on financial need.
  • From Fannie Mae
    The Fannie Mae Community HomeChoice program, available in all states, offers disabled borrowers low down payment programs, mortgage-qualification aid such as lower debt-to-income requirements, lenient credit evaluations and the ability to include rent payments from boarders in income calculations.
  • From Habitat for Humanity
    Habitat for Humanity is another option. In addition to building homes using volunteers, the organization helps with down payments and mortgage payments and is intimately familiar with fulfilling needs of the disabled such as zero-step entries, wide doorways and other mobility-friendly features. The decision to help you is made by the family selection committee from the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. (But you needn't have a family to qualify.) You'd better get moving, however. It takes an average of 18 months for Habitat owners to gain occupancy after initial application. Visit Habitat.org.
  • Federal and nonprofit programs for disabled veterans
    Disabled veterans have additional options, including the Veterans Affairs' Specially Adapted Housing grant program offering up to $67,555 (in fiscal year 2014) toward a home purchase or remodel, and the Homes for our Troops nonprofit, designed to help permanently injured vets buy or retrofit homes.
  • Help from state agencies
    Some states offer ancillary assistance, such as Maryland's Homeownership for Individuals with Disabilities Program, featuring low-interest loans. Connecticut's Home of Your Own Program offers below-market interest rates to disabled first-time homebuyers, while Alabama exempts the disabled from paying ad valorem taxes. Visit disabled-world.com/disability/finance/american-home-loans.php for a state-by-state rundown.

Keep plugging, Paul. Let us know how you fare. Good luck!

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