Home Modifications for Disabled Seniors
Disabled seniors can receive housing modifications through several government programs and many not-for-profit services.
Sometimes all it takes are three steps in an apartment building to transform a home into a prison. This is what happened to Maria R., a 66–year–old woman living in the Bronx. Maria was an outgoing active senior with many friends and outside interests… that is until she was hit by a car. Now she is confined to a wheelchair and can only get food and other necessities through home deliveries and help from friends and family members. In essence her life has shrunk to the size of her small one-bedroom apartment.
Many seniors find their life transformed due to an accident, illness, or chronic condition that make it impossible to conduct day-to-day activities. A 2011 study published by the Center for Independence of the Disabled (CIDNY), estimates that 7% of New York City’s population is physically impaired. Many of these people are seniors. Fortunately, federal, state and local laws protect individuals with disabilities and help them maintain their independence.
Federal Protections for Disabled Seniors
The Fair Housing Act of 1988 was the first major piece of legislative directed at protecting the handicapped. The act requires that all apartment buildings with four or more dwelling units make public areas handicapped accessible. Specifically the act demands that any building constructed after March 1991 include public doorways and elevators wide enough to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs. The buildings must also install wheelchair ramps and guardrails to lobbies, laundry facilities, and parking lots.
A few privately owned buildings constructed before 1991 are exempt from this ruling, although, even in these buildings the property owner cannot stop disabled residents from making necessary modifications to their apartment. The law is a little less clear about who is responsible for paying for these changes and tenants sometimes find themselves footing the bill.
Laws protecting the disabled were born out of the 1960’s civil right movement. In 1968, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) criminalized discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of living accommodations based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. In 1988 The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) extended the Fair Housing Act to include the physically disabled. The amendment specifically demands that all multi-family dwellings financed with federal money include accommodations for the individuals unable to ambulate. This requirement covers all Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing projects, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) projects and Section 8 housing.
Even with these laws, many low-income individuals find they must invest their own time and money in structural modifications. Fortunately many residents can often find assistance through government programs and charitable resources. Below are a few:
Services that provide home modifications for disabled seniors
Disabled Veterans may be eligible for financial assistance through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA offers Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grants to veterans who need to make medically necessary improvements and structural alterations to their homes. The grants allow veterans to install wheelchair ramps, make modification to kitchen counter height, and install roll-in showers or walk-in tubs to bathrooms. The grant also finances improvements to plumbing and electrical systems so a residence can accommodate home medical equipment.
New York City’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) is another resource. MOPD, which was created in 1972 works with other New York City offices and agencies to ensure that the disabled community is represented. One recent program named Project Open House assigns skilled workmen to remove simple residential barriers for low-income physically disabled individuals living in the five boroughs. The project, which is a joint effort between MOPD and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) widens doorways, installs wheelchair ramps and grab bars, and modifies the height of shelving and work surfaces for wheelchair bound residents.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation offers assistance as well. The foundation has a grant called Brighter Tomorrow that provides select individuals with up to a $1000 in funds for goods and services that improve the quality of life for individuals with MS.
Rebuilding Together is a nonprofit housing organization with local affiliates across the country including Brooklyn, New York.The organization makes repairs and modifications fore low-income and disabled residents. The program is primarily directed at seniors who need to modify their homes so they can return home after receiving institutional care. It installs wheelchair ramps and chair lifts to homes, adds handrails and grab bars, and adapts bathrooms so residents can maneuver around their homes.
Other organizations that may offer financial or labor assistance are community groups, religious organization, senior centers, and even schools. Many of these groups will fund projects on an individual basis.
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