Sarah Cummins, MA, BCBA
Association for Science in Autism Treatment

The journey to community housing with supportsThe journey to arriving at a housing solution can be a long one.  It is vital for individuals with disabilities and their families to understand how the process works. The Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey (SHA), a statewide non-profit organization, has developed a comprehensive guide to assist those searching, and preparing to search, for housing options that best fit each individual’s specific needs. The guide is broken up into sections that include the history of housing, available housing options, and funding sources. It outlines methods of finding affordable housing and provides up-to-date information pertinent to making important housing choices. While the guide is designed for New Jersey residents, it contains information that is beneficial to families regardless of state of residence. The Arc of Connecticut offers a similar guide tailored toward residents of Connecticut.

By providing a detailed outline of the paths available for obtaining housing, The Journey to Community Housing offers individuals with disabilities, parents, and caregivers a roadmap for determining housing options that would best fit their needs. The guide clarifies that housing options for individuals with disabilities are no longer what they used to be. Where residential placement used to be the norm, options are changing and expanding. It stresses individual involvement in the pursuit of housing options and support services.

Increased involvement of individuals with disabilities and their families requires a strong understanding of the various governmental agencies responsible for housing programs, as well as the various housing models available. In the effort to ease the burden of those who are going through the process, The Journey to Community Housing provides definitions of frequently used terms and acronyms and lists websites that provide more specific information.

Available Housing Options

There are multiple models available to service those looking for housing. It is vital to consider the desires, preferences, and needs of the individual when searching for the right housing and support options. A common choice for those looking for housing is an individualized combination of multiple models that best fits each person’s unique needs. The guide provides descriptions of various housing models and supports that are commonly utilized by individuals with disabilities as well as case examples. The majority of the models contain supportive housing elements, a best practice philosophy that advocates for individual choice, unique support service needs, independent living, and the formation of meaningful relationships with neurotypical peers whenever possible.

The guide also stresses the importance of creating a separation between the provision of housing and services, meaning that individuals should be able to move and not lose services, or change a service provider and not be required to move. It suggests that individuals choose service providers who are flexible in their delivery of services based on the needs of each individual. To provide readers with information regarding the options available, the guide has included first-hand accounts of individuals who are currently living in a specific model or a combination of the available housing options.  Some of the options covered are as follows:

  • Agency-Directed Services: An individual selects an agency that is responsible for supplying residential or vocational programs, such as group home placement.
  • Congregate Housing: Refers to living situations in which unrelated individuals with disabilities live together, such as in a group home.
  • Integrated Housing: Refers to the option to live in typical mainstream settings with opportunities to interact with people who do not have disabilities.
  • Supervised Apartments: An individual lives alone or with a roommate in an apartment with staff available 24 hours a day.
  • Shared Living: A few unrelated people with or without disabilities sharing their resources to live in one home. This model works best when the individual with a disability owns the home and chooses who the housemates may be. Housemates may receive remuneration in exchange for providing supportive services.
  • Support Family: A family who is recruited, trained, and monitored by a provider agency and paid to supply long-term care in their home for a person with a disability.
  • Living with Family with In-Home Supports: A person with a disability receives supportive services delivered within their own home while living with family members.
  • Bundled and Unbundled Services: Refers to how services are delivered. With bundled services, a package of supports is provided by one service provider, usually through a program such as a group home. With unbundled services, a person obtains individually selected support and services from one or more service providers. As systems change, most services will be unbundled and paid for through a fee for that service.
  • Support Coordination: A funded service that assists individuals in gaining access to needed programs and state plan services, as well as needed medical, social, educational, and other services. All eligible individuals who wish to access Division-funded services must either select or be assigned to a Support Coordination Agency.
  • Community Cooperative: Includes people living and working together in a community setting, such as a farm or a ranch.

With so many available options, The Journey to Community Housing stresses the importance of designing individualized options that meet the specific needs of each individual. This can be achieved through combining elements present in models or creative thinking to arrive at the best possible option.

The guide notes that while supportive housing is appropriate for some individuals, those with more severe disabilities may need housing that provides more intensive services. Included in the guide are first-hand accounts of the following models:

  • Group Homes: Community residences shared by residents who receive services from an agency that provides on-site staff 24 hours a day.
  • Intensive Specialized Group Homes: Designed for individuals with significant medical, intellectual, behavioral, or psychiatric needs that may need intensive staff support throughout the day. This model aims to provide needed clinical supports and prepare the individual for a less restrictive living model.
  • Secure Communities: Large complexes with security features designed exclusively for people with disabilities.

Funding Sources

Locating the funding for specific services is often the primary concern of individuals and parents or guardians who are going through the process of locating housing. To ease the burden of this process, The Journey to Community Housing provides a brief but thorough description of available options. Commonly used terms are defined, and frequently asked questions are answered.  Included is a description of Medicaid’s Home and Community Based Services Waivers, which pays for the services and supports necessary, as well as the waiver program that each state is permitted to create to fund specific services through the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medical Services. As the guide is designed specifically with New Jersey in mind, it provides a detailed description of the Community Care Waiver (CCW) and the Supports Program through the NJ Comprehensive Waiver, which pays for various aspects of an individual’s program, including supports, supported employment, day habilitation, or housing.

A vital aspect of applying for the Community Care Waiver (CCW) is the individual’s eligibility for both Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) services and Medicaid. Information on DDD, the leading governmental agency for supplying community services to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, is provided within the guide. DDD funds all residential services and supports within New Jersey through Medicaid-funded services.  The guide points out that resources for community-based residential support for eligible individuals are limited and highly suggests applying for a waiting list if waivers are not immediately available.

Though these options are available, there are specific eligibility requirements to access DDD services. These are laid out in the guide and are as follows: an individual must be over 21 years old, be a legal resident of NJ and the US, meet the functional criteria of developmental disabilities, and must be eligible for both DDD and Medicaid. Information on how to apply, necessary documentation, as well as websites to access the applications are included.  In the event of a denied application, the guide suggests appealing the process and provides the steps on how to file the appeal.

Medicaid waivers fund a variety of services and supports. Each waiver has its own regulations and service definitions. The Journey to Community Housing lists websites that provide information about specific programs. Two Medicaid-funded programs are highlighted: The Community Care Waiver, a comprehensive source of funding for residential supports and services, as well as the Supports Program, a service that provides Division-funded supports to those who live with their families or in a non-licensed setting.

The guide provides an explanation of The New Jersey Comprehensive Assessment Tool (NJCAT), the primary method used to determine the level of service needed. It also explains how an individual’s budget is used to fund services.  The assessment should be completed by those who know the individual well and, if possible, in collaboration with the individual, family, and service providers. A link to a video describing the assessment process can be found here.

For those who need long-term care and have a low to moderate income, the guide provides information on the Managed Long-Term Term Services and Supports Program, which fall under the NJ Comprehensive Medicaid Waiver.  It describes the required criteria an individual must meet, including financial and care requirements. Funding for in-home services under this program could include home health aides, adult daycare, transportation, behavioral care, and meal delivery. Within the guide, it is highlighted that under this program, personal income must pay for living and expenses. A website link is included for additional information.

A description of State Plan Services is included, which highlights the services that the state provides to beneficiaries, primarily Medicaid recipients who meet eligibility requirements.  These services can include dental, therapies, personal care assistance, and behavioral care. Approval from MCO/HMO is necessary, but no waiting list exists for these services.

Locating Affordable Housing

After locating viable funding sources, finding affordable and appropriate housing that fits criteria of the individual is the next step. The guide defines frequently used vocabulary, including the terms “affordable housing,” “fair market rent,” “public housing,” and “subsidized housing.”

The Journey to Community Housing describes rental subsidies as the first option. Rental assistance programs are available with federal and state funds through the Housing Choice Voucher or State Rental Assistance Programs. A description of how the vouchers are administered, as well as how to locate specific housing is outlined. The guide specifies that preference will be given to individuals with special needs. A link to the website of the Department of Human Service regarding “Sponsor Based Rental Assistance” is provided. For those who choose to use tenant-based rental assistance, a graphic is included.  It details eligibility requirements, tips on locating eligible housing options, and suggestions for what to include within a tenant-landlord agreement.

Another option is the Federal Housing Choice Vouchers and NJ Rental Assistance Program (NJ SRAP).  When searching for rental assistance, the guide suggests that individuals with disabilities contact the NJ Department of Community Affairs, the county, or local public housing authority and ask about “set aside” opportunities for rental assistance. Often, these programs have vouchers reserved for people with disabilities. Individuals are advised to apply to multiple waiting lists for low-income housing and rental subsidies. Explanation of what to do if a voucher is not available is provided, as well as the steps to follow once a name is placed on a waiting list. The importance of completing all paperwork in a timely manner once at the top of the waiting list is highlighted.  Additionally, the phone number for the local NJ Department of Community Affairs is provided, as well as websites for the Board of Social Services, Public Housing Agency, the Housing Choice Voucher site, and information on the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s Supportive Housing Programs.

Information on housing funded by tax credits through the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program is detailed.  This program provides tax incentives to housing developers to establish affordable rental units for those who meet income criteria. If interested in pursuing this option, the guide has provided a website through HUD that maintains an inventory of tax credit housing and mentions that new tax credit funded housing projects publicize their application process in local newspapers. Additional opportunities to find rental housing are described in detail and include the New Jersey Housing Resource Center and the Supportive Housing Connection.

While rental options are more commonly pursued, programs exist to assist people with disabilities to buy and maintain their own homes. The Journey to Community Housing offers a brief description and website links to New Jersey Programs that assist individuals with low incomes to purchase, renovate, or refinance a home and provides guidance with subsidies and low-interest mortgages. The programs described include the Homeward Bound Program, the Smart Start Program, and the Stay at Home Program. Information on financial qualifications and leasing is provided, and it is mentioned that there are agencies and services through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that can provide housing and financial counseling for those looking for affordable housing. Website links to the site are included.

For those looking to purchase a home through private resources, there are additional options described in the guide that include the following:

  • Employment: The guide provides a description of the Employment First initiative, intended to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Descriptions of vocational services designed to assist individuals to receive training to prepare them for employment, and website links to specific programs are included.
  • Individual Development Accounts (IDA): Matched savings accounts designed to assist low-income families to accumulate wealth to fund education, homeownership, and small businesses.
  • The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act: Makes it possible to save funds for an individual with a disability without jeopardizing some of the government’s means-tested benefits. Readers can find information on account creation and website links for additional information.
  • Special Needs Trusts: Allow funds to be saved for the individual with a disability that can be used to secure and maintain housing. The guide includes links to the Special Needs Alliance Handbook for Trustees and Planned Lifetime Assistance Network of NJ.

Considering the quality of housing provided is of utmost importance. Website links offering information regarding the checklists used and details regarding who is responsible for making inspections by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development are found within the guide. Additional links regarding housing discrimination and the rights of individuals with disabilities are also included.

Descriptions, contacts, and website links of various mainstream resources that support individuals with disabilities, the elderly, or those of low income are also included. It is suggested that reaching out to non-profit organizations can also help individuals and caregivers when it comes to gaining more information on available options.  Some of the mainstream resources described in the guide cover the following topics:

  • Funding for Living Expenses
  • Prescription Assistance
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • Utility Assistance
  • Transportation Options
  • Emergency Preparedness
  • Legal Services
  • Natural Supports

Housing developers can also find information regarding funding for the development of affordable housing for individuals with disabilities within this guide. Descriptions and graphics that cover various aspects of the housing development process and federal and state funding options are included.

The Journey to Community Housing recognizes that New Jersey needs additional resources to secure supportive housing for individuals with varying needs. It recommends advocacy as the primary method for expanding housing opportunities for individuals with disabilities.  Suggestions include regularly communicating with lawmakers regarding resources for support services, affordable housing development, rental vouchers, and other subsidies for individuals with low incomes. The SHA website is provided for additional information on how to best advocate for community housing.

In summary, The Journey to Community Housing with Supports provides individuals who are searching for housing with important information that can drive decision making. While it is specific to New Jersey residents, the guide highlights a complicated, yet evolving process that significantly impacts the consumers involved.

Utilizing this guide will hopefully assist individuals to arrive at the best possible option to fit their specific needs.

Citation for this article:

Cummins, S. (2021). A review of Community Housing with Supports. Science in Autism Treatment, 18(4).

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