Thinking about where your adolescent or adult with disabilities will live can be a stressful issue full of uncertainty. Many questions include: What are my options? What if he or she cannot live alone and take care of themselves? Will my adolescent be well-cared for and happy? Who will pay for it?
Adults with disabilities live in a range of environments that can include completely independent living situations, shared living arrangements, supported group homes, and more restrictive residential settings. Planning early for this process is very important and requires a great deal of research, networking, and preparation. If your son or daughter has more cognitive and intellectual disabilities, they may qualify for services through the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) as an adult. However, unlike educational services, DDS services depend on available resources and are not entitlements. If your adolescent does not receive housing assistance through DDS, you have other options such as public housing and private-pay group living arrangements.
Multiple housing options exist and it’s important to remember that each individual will have different needs and choices. The following is a guide for parents as they begin the process.
Step One: Envision an Ideal Setting for Your Adolescent with Disabilities
All parents want their children to be safe and happy as adults. It can be helpful for parents to try and envision what environment would be best as they begin to think about adult living situations. Where would your adolescent thrive? Do they prefer the country or city? What are their transportation options? How important is living in close proximity to the family? In general, there are six residential options for adults with disabilities: Living:
Independently in the community.
At home with the family (with consideration to long-term needs).
In homes or apartments (alone or shared) with services that come in and check on residents (assistance with bill paying, personal care, cleaning, etc.).
With supervised living arrangements. Programs often referred to as “group homes” provide housing, meals, case management and other services with 24 hour on-site supervision.
In a home-sharing or shared-living scenario - an option that pairs a person with disabilities with a live-in caregiver or companion in exchange for room and board or a stipend.
In “dorm-style" facilities, such as a nursing home or residential setting.
Step Two: Identify Your Adolescent’s Specific Needs and Abilities
The next step is to identify your adolescent’s life skills to figure out what supports will be needed to make the living situation workable. Key among the skills young adults will need to live independently is the ability to manage finances, shop, cook, clean and manage personal hygiene. Families should also work closely with their special education team to ensure that their adolescent enjoys opportunities to develop the independent living skills identified in their IEP as the most important to prioritize. See the “Independent Living Skills” section for a more comprehensive list of important considerations.
Step Three: Determine Your Ideal Setting
Once parents and their adolescent have identified an ideal living situation, the next step is to determine whether such a setting already exists or whether the family will have to create the setting. Many parents have explored creating their own unique options such as co-investing in a group home with other parents and adolescents. Some are funding or developing supportive living situations; others are envisioning and creating work/home settings in towns, cities, and rural areas.
Often, information about adult living situations in your state is available through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Massachusetts, DDS may also offer some guidance and support around housing resources. In addition, you can explore options available through nonprofit agencies such as Autism Housing Pathways, Advocates, Inc., Living Independently Forever, Inc., Jewish Family & Children’s Service, and 3LPlace. Do your homework to determine what’s available. It is important to network with other families!
Step Four: How to Get Specific
Once you’ve imagined your ideal setting and determined your adolescent’s appropriate needs, research housing options that meet those criteria. If getting funding through DDS, a Service Coordinator may offer a list of places to tour. If this is not the case, consider private options. For all settings, parents and adolescents can take an official tour and narrow down their options. While you are researching, look carefully at:
Staff turnover (if relevant to the housing option).
Any reports of abuse.
The quality of individual caregivers.
The quality of facility conditions.
Level of staff support (for ex: round the clock staff availability).
Length of wait list.
Medication policies (is psychotropic or stimulant medication allowed in the specific facility).
Financial Aspects of Housing
DDS or DMH Funding
In Massachusetts, the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and/or the Department of Mental Health (DMH) can provide supportive housing for some individuals who are not capable of living independently (see “Public Benefits and Government Agencies” section).
The determination of whether you will receive DDS funding for housing is based on multiple assessments, primarily an instrument called the MASSCAP (see “Public Benefits and Government Agencies” section) as well as IQ testing. If it is determined that your adolescent will need funding for supported housing, DDS may offer financial assistance. This is not always possible and depends on the budget and available resources.
If you meet eligibility requirements and funding is available, there are multiple options for housing. DDS usually contracts with non-profit agencies that are responsible for supervising the living arrangements. Generally, these are the most commonly used living arrangements. Here are some of the most common living arrangements:
Homes or apartments (alone or shared) with service providers that come in and check on residents (for example: assist with bill paying, personal care, house cleaning, etc.).This is considered a “supported living” arrangement and typically serves people who do not need 24- hour supervision or support. These options can be privately or publicly funded.
Programs often referred to as “group homes” provide housing, meals, case management, and other services with 24-hour onsite supervision. Typically there are two–five residents living together in a house or in an apartment that is owned by a provider agency contracted through DDS, DMH, or operated privately.
Shared Living or Home-Sharing
This is an option that pairs a person with disabilities with a live-in caregiver or companion in exchange for room and board or a stipend. These options may also be funded through contracts with DDS or DMH.
These are larger facilities, such as a nursing home or residential setting.
Section 8 Housing
Section 8 housing is a federal assistance program that helps low-income Massachusetts residents pay for their housing. In this program, people can either receive a voucher, which they use to get an apartment at a discounted rate, or they can move into an apartment complex that is exclusively reserved for tenants receiving Section 8 assistance. A person may apply to either voucher program (see below), either to each program separately or to several programs simultaneously. Individuals can apply to any programs that have an open waiting list. However, they can only receive one type of assistance.
The waitlist is usually longer for voucher programs. Different factors can influence your place on the waitlist. For example, individuals with disabilities will be prioritized along with other populations, such homeless individuals, veterans, and families with young children. Despite the prioritization, waitlists tend to be many years long. For more information about waitlists and housing availability, please contact your local housing authority.
Section 8 Tenant-Based Vouchers
With a Section 8 tenant-based voucher, a family or an individual may choose their own apartment. The apartment must be safe and clean, and the rent must be reasonable. Families usually pay 30 percent of their income for rent, and the Section 8 program pays the rest. If the family moves, they may use their voucher for a different apartment.
Section 8 Project-Based Vouchers
With a project-based Section 8 voucher, a family must live in a specific Section 8 subsidized housing unit. These subsidized housing units are privately owned, but the owners get help from the government in return for low rents. Families usually pay 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities, and Section 8 pays the rest. If the family moves, the voucher goes to the next family that rents that apartment and there is no assistance provided for the person moving out.
Unfortunately, Section 8 has incredibly long waitlists. Your adolescent must wait until turning 18 before they can apply for Section 8 housing. Waitlists vary, but sometimes can be up to ten years or more. Many individuals live at home while they are on the waitlist. Also, it is highly advised to check-in annually to ensure that your adolescent’s name remains on the waitlist.
For more information on the Section 8 program, visit www.massresources.org, http://asdinfo.org/14rTof8, or www.massresources.org/adult-family-care.html.
The Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership is a non-profit agency that assists families and individuals in their search for safe and affordable housing. Contact them for help with the Section 8 process or with any other housing related questions. They also offer other helpful services and resources, such as information about home modification programs, utility discounts, home buying assistance etc.
Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership
125 Lincoln Street, 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02111
(617) 859-0400 or (800) 272-0990
For Adolescents Living at Home and Other Privately Funded Living Arrangements
If your young adult continues to live at home and has Mass Health, they may qualify for a Personal Care Attendant (PCA) hours. A PCA is someone who can help your young adult perform activities of daily living (such as bathing, dressing, and feeding). For more information, see the “Public Benefits and Government Agencies” chapter.
Placements are also available at privately run living facilities, such as group homes. Nonprofit community agencies often run these programs and provide a residence, meals, supervision, and transportation and host social events. Residents are grouped according to diagnosis and their independent living skill competencies; i.e., some residences have 24-hour supervision, while others are staffed only during select hours.
Some families are able to purchase and staff private apartments or homes. They can team up with other parents or do it independently. Sometimes, DDS may provide the staff for the home. There are agencies that specialize in these kinds of housing arrangements. One primary resource is the Specialized Housing Company: www.specializedhousing.org. (617) 277-1805. See the resources section below for more specific information.
Autism Housing Pathways (AHP) is a Massachusetts based organization that provides information, support and resources to families who seek to create secure, supportive housing for their adult children with disabilities. For more information, see www.autismhousingpathways.net or call 617-893-8217.
Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Home Modification Program
State-funded program providing loans for access modifications to homes of adults with disabilities.
27 Wormwood Street
Boston, MA 02210
MASS ACCESS: The Accessible Housing Registry
A free program that helps people with disabilities find rental housing in Massachusetts, primarily accessible and barrier–free housing. The database tracks accessible and affordable apartments throughout the state, maintaining information about their availability.
See housing guide titled “Building a Future: Strategies on supported housing for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Mortgage and Home Loan Help Guide
Independent Living Centers (ILC)
These are private, nonprofit, consumer-controlled, community-based organizations providing services and advocacy by and for persons with all types of disabilities. Their goal is twofold: to create opportunities to promote independence and to assist individuals with disabilities to achieve their maximum level of independent functioning within their families and/or communities.
Independent Living Centers in Massachusetts
215 North Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
TTY (413) 442-7158
Stavros Center for Independent Living, Inc.
200 Old Farm Road
Amherst, MA 01002
Voice/TTY (413) 256-0473
Boston Center for Independent Living
60 Temple Place, 5th floor
Boston, MA 02111
TTY (617) 338-6662
Center for Living and Working
484 Main Street, Suite 345
Worcester, MA 01608-1874
Cape and Islands
Cape Organization for the Rights of the Disabled
1019 Iyanough Road, #4
Hyannis, MA 02601
Voice/TTY (508) 775-8300
141 Main Street, 1st Floor
Brockton, MA 02301
Voice/TTY (508) 583-2166
Roxbury, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Mattapan, West Roxbury
Independent Living Project
Multicultural Independent Living Center
22 Beechwood Street
Dorchester, MA 02121
TDD (617) 288-2707
North Shore and Cape Ann
Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann
27 Congress Street, Suite 107
Salem, MA 01970
Voice/TTY (978) 741-0077
Metro West Independent Living Center
280 Irving Street, #401
Framingham, MA 01702
Northeast Independent Living Program
20 Ballard Road
Lawrence, MA 01843
Voice/TTY (978) 687-4288
Fall River and New Bedford
Southeast Center for Independent Living Merrill Building
66 Troy Street
Fall River, MA 02721
Voice/TTY (508) 679-9210
This information is provided by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.
Regional Housing Agencies (RAAs) provide both Section 8 and housing counseling state-wide. The website www.masshousinginfo.org provides detailed housing information and a directory of RAAs for your region.
In addition, a number of Local Housing Authorities (LHAs) also participate in a centralized waiting list for Section 8 assistance administered through 86 LHAs state-wide. For more information, visit: http://asdinfo.org/T53AVD
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