Susan's Blog

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Public Funding Matters: The Autism Housing Crisis is Real

The school systems in the United States were woefully unprepared for the new populations of students on the autism spectrum in the last 20 years. And they have paid dearly to build programs and curricula for these students. The reason we even have education programs for our intellectually and developmentally disabled children is because there is a federal law mandating it.

There is no such federal or state law mandating anything of the kind for these people once they age out of the schools, other than Medicaid via Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

What will happen? Where will these adults with autism and developmental/intellecutal disabilities live?

Cathy Boyle, founder and president of Autism Housing Pathways in Massachusetts, may be the wisest autism mom I know. Today she has an outstanding, illuminating piece in the Worcester Telegram (see full text below) highlighting for all the dire situation of housing for adults with autism and intellectual disabilities — in Massachusetts, which is one of the more progressive states. So while you read this, you should imagine what some of the other states are like elsewhere in our country — those that refuse Medicaid assistance for their needy populations, (like Texas recently) —  those that scorn public support programs. And actually, this kind of ignorance-fueled action is costing Texas — even financially! Read about that here.

Folks, not everyone has an intact strong family that can open their home to them. And if the family does accommodate their autistic adult loved one, will they have the ability to actually care for him or her?

Do those legislators realize that they are demonizing real people — with real lives. While you read this oped Cathy has written, also just try to imagine a loved one of yours without a home. And then find out how your representatives vote.  Be the change you want to see in the world..


       Worcester Telegram, June 2, 2015

    • As I See It: Disability housing crisis

  • By Catherine Boyle

    Posted May. 29, 2015 at 6:00 AM

    There is a silent crisis in Massachusetts. Thousands of individuals with developmental disabilities are in desperate need of affordable, supported housing. This housing crisis takes many forms: the young autistic adult who has aged out of foster care and is couch surfing; the parent with a child with a disability who faces foreclosure; the individual with a developmental disability who has been unable to hold a job and lives at home with elderly parents. Without appropriate housing options, many are vulnerable to homelessness, or the school-to-prison pipeline, particularly young autistic males of color.

    We don’t have firm numbers, but we do have numbers that allow us to grasp the magnitude of the problem. According to the Disability Policy Consortium, over 32,000 people with disabilities in Massachusetts are on waiting lists for housing vouchers which would subsidize their rent and allow them to live independently. This includes over 30,000 people on the federally funded Section 8 housing voucher program waiting list and more than 2,100 residents with disabilities waitlisted for Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) rental assistance.

    The Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS) oversees the state system for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In the coming fiscal year, DDS’ “Turning 22” caseload will include over 800 young people who reach their 22nd birthday and age out of the services provided through the special education system. About 30% of them will receive 24/7 residential supports through DDS. The remainder will not. Currently, most of these individuals remain in the family home. DDS will step in when the family becomes incapable of providing care. This may not come until the individuals are in their 40s, when they will simultaneously face the loss of family and the only home they have ever known. These numbers will get worse over the next 20 years. In 2011 Massachusetts had almost twice as many 6 year-olds on a special education Individualized Education Plan for autism as there were 17 year-olds.

    What can we do? We need to increase funding for the AHVP program in the state budget. We need clear guidance about settings in which DDS will fund services, so that developers can incorporate residential units into plans for large scale affordable housing developments. We need flexibility and communication across agencies within Massachusetts state government, so that individuals can practically combine funding streams from multiple agencies in cases where there is no statutory or regulatory prohibition against it.

    We also need approaches that will allow individuals and their families to leverage their own resources, which may make it possible to create housing at a lower cost to the state. Zoning changes, asset development strategies, and access to financing are all necessary.

    Mass. Senate Bill 708 would allow owner-occupiers of single family homes, including families of persons with disabilities, to get an interest free, potentially deferred payment loan for up to $50K or 50% of construction costs to add an accessory unit of up to two bedrooms, provided a deed restriction is in place that requires a person who has a disability or is elderly to reside on the property. Autism Housing Pathways has drafted a model zoning by-law, which would make such accessory units a by-right use in municipalities where it is adopted. This is not completely new ground; Rhode Island already allows accessory apartments as a reasonable accommodation for a disability.

    Another bill filed at the State House, Senate Bill 1517, would expand funding for Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) by funding the state’s IDA program with tax credits, instead of a budget line item. IDAs are targeted at households with income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Limit, and permit individuals who are working to save for a down payment to receive matching funds. ABLE accounts, modeled after College 529 savings accounts and recently approved by Congress, allow individuals and families to save for disability-related expenses. They should be available in Massachusetts later this year and are a start, but alone are not sufficient.

    Individuals and families also need access to financing. Federal mortgage lender Fannie Mae has a 5% down payment loan product for individuals with disabilities. Further, the Fannie Mae lending guide states that families creating housing for a son or daughter with a disability should be treated as owner-occupiers, making them eligible for a loan at 3% down. However, only one lender in the state appears to be using these products with individuals and families. Access to these programs must be expanded.

    Many people are under the mistaken impression that the housing needs of people with developmental disabilities are already provided for. This is far from the truth. But together we can work to make it a reality.

    Catherine Boyle is president, Autism Housing Pathways.

1 comment

On the Federal level, IDEA REQUIRES Secondary Transition planning once the student is 16 years old. While “planning” doesn’t guarantee availability, it can create documentation of need. Money is the killer, of course. Another problem is the fragmented systems, from state to state and even city to city. Political action is the way to go; contact your Parent-to-Parent, self advocacy group, or DD-support group. Sad to say, I had to literally buttonhole both service providors and politicians, in front of the press, at an annual luncheon, in order to get a commitment to build a combination group home/emergency respite facility after our house burned down…

— added by VMGillen on Thursday, June 4, 2015 at 12:54 pm