Families often wonder if and where their children with special needs will live on their own. Often the focus is on universal design to make housing physically accessible. But housing with supports will maximize independence for individuals with all kinds of disabilities.

Phisical Access

Universal design is a concept used to ensure that the home environment is accessible to all. In addition to people with disabilities, it is also helpful to assist individuals to "age in place" and not have to move later. Accessibility features can include walk/roll-in showers, lower countertops and sinks, placement of switches/ outlets/doorknobs, etc.

Supportive Housing

Supportive housing is permanent, affordable, lease-based housing for people of low income with access to flexible supportive services. Supportive housing is designed for people with special needs including those with mental, physical and developmental disabilities as well as people who are homeless. Supportive housing provides a safe, affordable home with access to support services so that individuals can live as independently as possible in communities of their choice.

Supportive housing can be found in a variety of settings, in different constellations, and may include scattered site apartments, individual apartments, shared apartments as well as (more rarely) home ownership. Some supportive housing exists in affordable housing complexes that are often integrated with non-disabled individuals/ families.

Supportive services can vary but often include case management, care coordination, job and education coaching, assistance with daily living skills, transportation assistance, access to public entitlements and crisis intervention. (Excerpted from Supportive Housing Association: The Journey to Community Housing with Supports)

Оther Models Of Housing With Supports

While group homes are one model of "housing with supports," more and more people with disabilities and their families are looking to greater inclusion and participation in the community. Some models of supportive housing are integrated, or "reverse integrated" in which a certain portion of units are set aside for people with disabilities. Sometimes people with and without disabilities share a home. Supervised living means that there is help nearby at all times if needed. Assisted living is a similar option. Personal Care Assistance (PCA) services allow many people with special needs to remain in their community. It is essential to get the input from the person with a disability regarding their preferences for living arrangements.

Some individuals with disabilities remain in their family home with supports while others live with a trained "host family." Newer ideas include "accessory apartments" sometimes known colloquially as "granny pods" built on the lots of family homes as well as the "tiny house" movement. Technology and apps can help people with disabilities control utilities, lights, locks, answering the phone, etc. Personal emergency response systems (PERS) have features such as fall detection, waterproofed to wear while bathing, or if the person doesn't respond to a call immediately sending emergency responders. It is important to remember that in order for housing to be successful, individuals with disabilities must also have appropriate supports and services.

Ideas From Families

Families have sometimes pooled funds for a single family home shared by people with disabilities. Others have created communities on farms which also provide vocational experiences. Some families are combining funding to create multiple dwellings

Funding and Support

Housing funding is complex and comes from many sources including vouchers and help with phones and utilities (see Resources). Section 8 and HUD are other sources of housing funding based on income. It should be noted that other supports may be needed for people with significant developmental disabilities, medical complexity, or mental illness. Medicaid has Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) and other waivers. Lastly, Centers for Independent Living have institutional diversion initiatives which maximize independence and living in the community. The National Center on Supported Decision Making also has a section on housing.

There are many options for families and self-advocates to decide on regarding housing. By ensuring the appropriate supports and services are in place, individuals with disabilities can maintain their independence and be a part of their community.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lauren Agoratus, M.A. is the parent of a child with multiple disabilities who serves as the Coordinator for Family Voices-NJ and as the central/southern coordinator in her state's Family-to-Family Health Information Center, both housed at the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) at spanadvocacy.org