Housing for Persons with Disabilities Guide

There are many federal housing resources available to persons with disabilities. These include affordable rental housing and supportive services to help disabled persons maintain independence and involvement in the community. This guide will provide information about different housing resources available to persons with disabilities looking for affordable housing. Read below to find out how to get more information and apply for these programs.

Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities Program

What is the Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities Program?

The Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program provides affordable apartment communities for low-income disabled persons.

You can read more about this housing program here.

Other Federal Housing Programs Serving Renters with Disabilities

Federal housing providers can restrict units or properties only for disabled occupancy for the following housing programs:

Public Housing

The Public Housing program is managed by HUD Public Housing Agencies (or housing authorities). These properties receive an operating subsidy that allows tenants to pay 30% of their adjusted monthly income for rent.

Learn how to apply for Public Housing apartments here.

Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance

Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance is managed by private owners, or sometimes housing authorities, with tenants paying 30% of their adjusted monthly income for rent and the program paying the owners the rest of the rent.

Learn how to apply for Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance apartments here.

Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program provides tax credits to investors that invest capital in properties that serve low-income households. These properties offer reduced rents affordable to low-income households, and in many cases include other resources such as Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, that make them affordable to those with the lowest incomes.

Learn how to how to apply for Low-Income Housing Tax Credit apartments here.,

Section 515

Section 515 is a program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provides low-interest loans to developers building properties providing apartments to low-income households in rural areas. These properties often have other federal subsidies, such as Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance or Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance. Many Section 515 properties are designated for disabled and senior occupancy only. You can check with the housing office or manager for the building to see if it is designated for disabled and senior tenants. You can also ask about accessible units and what rental assistance is available.

Mainstream Vouchers

In certain circumstances, HUD Non-Elderly Disabled (NED) Vouchers may be available. These vouchers have the same rules as Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. They provide rental assistance to lease apartments in the private market.

Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) have the option of designating some of their properties as “senior-only.” This includes public housing, Section 8 new construction, Section 515 and a few other types of affordable housing. In these cases, disabled households that would have been eligible to live there are offered the Non-Elderly Disabled Vouchers. In addition, disabled residents who currently live in one of these developments being converted to senior-only living also qualify for the vouchers. You do not have to already be on the PHAs Section 8 Voucher waiting list to receive a Disabled Voucher. You should check with the  PHA about whether they provide Disabled Vouchers and if you qualify.

Preferences for Federal Housing Programs

  • Many federal housing providers have preferences to serve special populations, and people who meet these criteria move up the waiting list more quickly.
  • One of the most common preferences on affordable housing applications is for disabled applicants.
  • If there's an employment/working preference, disabled applicants also qualify for that preference.

Reasonable Accommodations

Many seniors have physical limitations, such as impaired vision, hearing or mobility. Affordable housing providers who receive federal funds must make reasonable accommodations to ensure that all people, regardless of disability, can apply for their programs and have full enjoyment of their units if selected. A reasonable accommodation is a change in a rule, policy, practice or service that may be necessary to allow a disabled person the equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling.

Under federal civil rights laws, a disabled person is one who:

  1. Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  2. Has a record of such impairment.
  3. Is regarded as having any such impairment.

Applicant Accommodations

  • Reasonable accommodations must be provided for disabled persons in the application process.
  • This also applies to elderly persons who may have difficulty reading the application or other documents.
  • Application forms should have information about how to request assistance in completing the application.
  • Reasonable accommodations could include allowing a service animal to be present for applicant interviews, assistance completing forms or translation services for persons with Limited English Proficiency.

Unit and Property Accommodations

  • Persons with disabilities can also request reasonable accommodations in public spaces and in their units.
    • Some examples of accommodations include a dedicated handicapped parking space, a lower mailbox for someone in a wheelchair, adding grab bars in a bathroom or allowing a service animal in a building that prohibits pets.

For buildings first occupied after March, 1991 with four or more units and an elevator, federal accessibility requirements provide a number of benefits to seniors (even if the property is not solely restricted to senior residents):

  • All public and common use areas must be accessible to persons with disabilities.
  • All doors and hallways must be wide enough for wheelchairs.
  • In the apartments, there must be an accessible path through the unit, reinforced bathroom walls for installation of grab bars and accessible controls such as thermostats, light switches and levered door handles.

Caregiver Accommodations

HUD allows some additional services in federally assisted housing that help tenants who have difficulty with one or more daily life activities, promoting an assisted living environment. HUD regulations allow a live-in aide or caregiver. HUD defines a live-in aide as someone who lives with a disabled person and is essential to the care and wellbeing of the person, not obligated to support the person with disabilities and would not be living in the unit except to provide the necessary supportive services. Caregivers may provide both physical assistance, such as help with bathing or getting in and out of a wheelchair, and cognitive assistance, such as reminders to take medications or supervising meal preparation.

A senior with a demonstrated need for 24-hour assistance can qualify for a larger unit to provide quarters for a caregiver. For example, a single senior would normally qualify for either a studio or one-bedroom apartment. If they qualify for a live-in aide, they can qualify for a two-bedroom unit. Live-in aides do not count as part of the household for calculating income eligibility. They can be removed or evicted by the PHA the same as tenants for infractions, such as drug- or criminal-related activity. Live-in aides also do not have a right to remain in the unit after the disabled tenant has moved out.

HUD also oversees the Assisted Living Conversion Program (ALCP). This program provides grants to private owners of affordable housing developments to convert some or all of the units in a given development into an assisted living facility or service-enriched housing for frail seniors. These facilities are designed to accommodate frail seniors who can live independently, but need assistance with activities of daily living. These include eating, bathing, grooming, dressing and home management activities. The services offered often include personal care, transportation, congregate meals, housekeeping and laundry service. They are similar to Section 202 properties, but with a greater array of services.

Other Services Supporting Disabled Residents in Their Housing

Congregate Housing Services Program

HUD’s Congregate Housing Services Program (CHSP) funds meals and other supportive services for frail elderly and non-elderly disabled residents of federally subsidized housing.

  • It supports meal delivery and non-medical supportive services that help residents maintain independent living.
  • Properties must offer at least one hot meal per day.
  • Many Public Housing, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, Section 202 and Section 515 properties dedicated to serving seniors and disabled residents participate in this program.
  • You can check with the owner or property manager to see if they receive CHSP funds and what services are provided.

Service Directories for Various Disability Networks

Service Resources for Persons with Chronic Mental Illness

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a nonprofit organization that serves people nationwide with mental illness.
    • It engages in education and advocacy on behalf of mentally ill people at local, state and national levels.
  • NAMI has a toll-free helpline where staff can answer questions and provide referrals regarding symptoms and treatment options, local support groups and services, education programs, programs to help find jobs and legal services referrals.
    • NAMI’s helpline is (800) 950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.
      • The helpline is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET, Monday-Friday.
  • NAMI’s Helpline Web Page also has additional information and links for help in crisis situations, including suicide, domestic violence and sexual assault.