Housing for Persons with Disabilities in Rural Areas

Housing for Persons with Disabilities in Rural Areas

INTRODUCTION

Since the 1970s, activists with disabilities have redefined the “problem” of physical challenges as one of disabling environments rather than “disabled” people. In 1990, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title III, put this philosophy to work by requiring that places of public accommodation, commercial facilities and certain private facilities be made accessible to persons with disabilities – including housing.

Until recently, most publicity, program initiatives and funding for housing for persons with disability have been directed at cities. Likewise, research on accessible housing has tended to focus on urban areas, leaving little systematic information about the needs of persons with disabilities in rural areas. However, through the recent research by scholars on rural disability, the beginning of a rural accessible housing agenda has been established.

The ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who: a) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, seeing, hearing, or speaking; b) has a record of having such an impairment, whether or not the impairment still exists; or c) is regarded as having such an impairment, whether or not the perception is accurate. The definition also includes persons 60 years of age and older who are frail (have an inability to perform at least three activities of daily living without assistance, such as bathing, dressing or using the toilet). While advanced age, in and of itself, is not an impairment, various medical conditions commonly associated with age, such as hearing loss, osteoporosis, or arthritis, constitute disabilities.

LIVING WITH A DISABILITY IN RURAL AMERICA

Persons with disabilities in rural areas, like their urban counterparts, have a wide range of housing needs. Persons with physical disabilities need accessibility features to facilitate independent living. Persons with mental illness or persons requiring regular treatment/therapy for their condition need suitable access to a treatment facility. Frail elderly persons may require modifications to their existing homes. Others may prefer group housing or assisted living situations.

One fact of rural disability is that even though there are fewer persons with disabilities in nonmetro areas, they comprise a greater percentage of the population than in metropolitan counties. As the chart below demonstrates, while persons with disabilities make up 18 percent of the metropolitan population, they make up 23 percent of nonmetro areas; consequently, the demand for accessible living and working facilities is proportionally greater in nonmetro areas.

Source: U.S. Census, 1990

However, while the demand for accessible housing is higher in nonmetro areas, meeting that demand is also more difficult for the following reasons:

  • Residents of rural areas tend to value independence, self-reliance and individualism.1 Although these are positive values, they also contribute to a reluctance to seek help from mental or physical health professionals among persons with disabilities in rural areas. This factor also makes it difficult to assess the need for accessible housing in rural areas.
  • Transportation to health-related services is particularly problematic for rural people who may live hours from the nearest service center, clinic, hospital or day program. Nearly one-third of the 91 million people in nonmetro areas eligible for government transportation funding are transportation dependent, meaning that they have no personal transportation due to poverty (12.4 million), old age (12.1 million), and/or physical disability (11.9 million).2 Service providers must either deliver services where clients live, or arrange for rides or van pools to service sites, cutting into the time and funding available for direct services provision.
  • Recruitment, training, and retention of health service providers in rural areas is hampered by professional and social isolation, lack of training opportunities and support, low wages, and high stress.
  • Lack of basic infrastructure like municipal water and sewer services in rural areas often preclude the development of accessible housing, as well as limit the number of developers willing to work in these areas.
  • Local zoning and land use restrictions often limit the siting of group homes in both urban and rural areas. These restrictions include dispersion requirements (prohibiting group homes from locating too close to one another), concentration requirements (prohibiting the location of group homes in certain areas), and occupancy requirements (limiting the number of residents).

PROGRAMS AND RESOURCES

Federal civil rights statutes protect persons with disabilities from discrimination in virtually all housing services and programs.

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504).

    Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability or perceived disability in any program or activity that receives federal financial assistance, including all public and federally subsidized housing programs. Housing providers covered by Section 504 must bear the costs of making all programs accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.

  • The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA).

    The FHAA extends protection against housing discrimination to persons with disabilities. It requires housing providers to permit, at the expense of the handicapped person, reasonable modifications of existing premises upon request. It also requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations (adjustments to rules, policies, practices or procedures) upon request by handicapped persons. FHAA covers almost all housing activities or transactions in the public or private sector, including the discriminatory application of zoning, land use, or health and safety regulations.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

    ADA builds on the other statutes by prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities in private sector employment, all public services, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications.

As in urban areas, implementation of these statutes in rural areas is fraught with difficulties such as residents’ unawareness of their rights and housing providers’ ignorance of the law, lack of affordable legal recourse, and persistence of restrictive local land use and zoning regulations.

In addition to generally-available low-income housing grant and loan programs (such as the Section 502 Direct and Guaranteed Loan Programs), there are a few programs and resources that address the housing needs of persons with disabilities in rural areas.3 The Section 811 Supportive Housing Program for Persons with Disabilities administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is one example. The USDA/Rural Housing Service (RHS) also offers the Section 504 Home Repair Loan and Grant Program, which provides funds to modify homes for accessibility. The USDA/RHS also has a subsection of the Section 515 Rural Rental Housing Program that provides direct mortgage loans for the development of congregate housing or group homes for persons with disabilities.

Other federal programs, while not focused on serving the needs of persons with disabilities in rural areas, can also provide significant support. These include the McKinney-Vento Act homeless assistance programs, Community Services Block Grants allocated to states by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and housing programs administered by the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service (RHS).

Despite myriad challenges, there are several organizational resources available to assist rural persons with disabilities in securing affordable and accessible housing:

The Center for Assistive Technology (CAT/UB) 515 Kimball Tower, SUNY Buffalo Buffalo, NY 14214-3079 800-628-2281 (TTY)

National Council on the Aging, Inc. National Institute of Senior Housing 600 Maryland Ave., SW, West Wing 100 Washington, DC 20024 202-479-1200

Research and Training Center on Rural Rehabilitation Services 52 Corbin Hall, The University of Montana Missoula, MT 59812 406-243-5467 (voice/TTY) 888-268-2743 (toll free) https://ruralinstitute.umt.edu


FOOTNOTES

1Mental Health and Rural America: 1980-1993. Washington, D.C.: Federal Office of Rural Health Policy

2Spas, Diana and Tom Seekins. 1998. RURALfacts: Transportation. Missoula, MT: Research and Training Center on Rural Rehabilitation Services.

3RHS was formerly the Rural Housing and Community Development Service and before that the Farmers Home Administration. Additional information on RHS programs can be obtained from the Information Sheets on Rural Housing and Community Development Service Programs produced by the Housing Assistance Council. More information on HUD’s Section 811 program is available from the Information Sheet on Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities also produced by the Housing Assistance Council.


January 2001

This Information Sheet was prepared by the Housing Assistance Council. The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding from the Ford Foundation and the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and finding of that work are dedicated to the public. HAC is solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and the interpretations contained in this publication and such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the government.

Housing in Rural America

As the population and economy of rural America is changing so too are rural homes. For the most part these changes have beenpositive as today more rural Americans live in safe, decent, and high quality housing than at any time. Despite this progress, far too many rural Americans live in substandard, unaffordable, or crowded homes. There are more than 111 million occupied housing unitsin the United States, roughly 25 million, or 22 percent of homes, are located in rural areas.

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Rural Housing Volunteer Opportunities Guide Cover

Rural Housing Volunteer Opportunities: Creating Sustainable Partnerships

Rural Housing Volunteer Opportunities Guide CoverRural Housing Volunteer Opportunities: Creating Sustainable Partnerships is a valuable reference tool, providing Home Depot store associates with information about local organizations engaged in rural housing development activities. With profiles from over 300 rural housing organizations nationwide, the guide provides Home Depot store employees with the information they need to identify housing related volunteer opportunities where their specific skills and knowledge can be used.

Rural Housing Volunteer Opportunities Guide CoverAcross rural America, local nonprofit organizations are working to meet the housing needs of low- and moderate-income residents. This work is often enhanced by generous contributions of time, money, and skills from civic-minded community volunteers. Volunteers understand that we all have the ability to help make the world a better place. In collaboration with the Home Depot Foundation, the Housing Assistance Council has assembled Rural Housing Volunteer Opportunities: Creating Sustainable Partnerships as a way to connect Home Depot store associates with volunteer opportunities with rural housing developers across the nation.

Rural Housing Volunteer Opportunities: Creating Sustainable Partnerships is a valuable reference tool, providing Home Depot store associates with information about local organizations engaged in rural housing development activities. With profiles from over 300 rural housing organizations nationwide, the guide provides Home Depot store employees with the information they need to identify housing related volunteer opportunities where their specific skills and knowledge can be used.

The guide is separated by state and includes a map of each state with Home Depot store locations and rural housing nonprofits clearly indicated. Also highlighted are those organizations that are currently using green building techniques. Each listing includes contact information for the nonprofit organization, an organizational profile, and information about specific volunteer opportunities.

The nonprofit organizations listed offer a range of available volunteer opportunities, including:

  • Participation in community build or rehabilitation projects
  • Board membership
  • Donation of materials or funds
  • Teaching “how-to workshops”

There are many ways that you can make a difference. We encourage you to use this guide as a starting point to creating long lasting partnerships with local nonprofit organizations. Together, we can build stronger rural communities.

Homeownership as an Asset in Rural America

Homeownership as an Asset in Rural America

A home is the largest asset most Americans and in particular low- and moderate-income households will ever own. During the nation’s recent economic downturn, the overall housing market has remained remarkably strong. Current instabilities in some investment sources have increased the attention to homeownership as a means of wealth accumulation.