HOUSING OPTIONS - Finding a Home to Live In
Option 1 - Renting (Subsidized):
State and federally funded accessible housing. Must be applied for. Eligible applicants are put on a waiting list and notified when housing becomes available. Waiting lists for this type of housing are 3-5 years minimum. Some of the positives - Housing is fully accessible, usually close to public transportation routes, close to shopping & other services, significantly lower (subsidized) rents.
Option 2 - Renting (Private):
In some instances you may be able to find housing that, with a few simple changes, can be made accessible. Many individuals find homes with open floor plans, reasonably sized bathrooms and kitchens but needing a ramp and doorknob changes workable alternatives. Negotiate with the landlord about building either a temporary or permanent ramp. Replacing round doorknobs with a paddle handle knob will allow easy access and is of minimal expense. Changing toilet seats can also be done to enhance accessibility. Ask for permission to install grab bars in the shower. You may be able to find removable tub railings at your local home improvement center. Be creative and use your imagination. Always get permission in writing for any and all changes first. Be sure to keep a copy of this agreement with your rental agreement.
Option 3 - Purchasing (Existing as accessible)
Before you begin shopping for a new home it is helpful to get pre-qualified for your loan. Shopping for a loan can be a tedious process but a very important one. Pre-qualifying for your loan will give you your budget and the price range you and your realtor can start looking for. If you can find a home that is already accessible and will suit your needs...take it! These don't last long on the market and can be extremely difficult to find.
Be sure to find a good Real Estate agent in your area who will do daily checks on the MLS for new listings and is familiar with basic accessibility needs. It is important that you have an agent you feel comfortable working with. Interview several before choosing one. You don't have to be stuck with the first agent that comes your way! You are the boss; find someone whom you are comfortable with and communicate well with. Before you even begin to look, sit down with your agent and co-ordinate a detailed list of your family's needs and the features you will need in a new home. Be prepared to be patient and persistent!
Option 4 - Purchasing (Existing but Not accessible)
This is the most common situation. You find a house that will most closely suit your needs but will require some basic remodeling to accommodate the special needs of your family. Be creative and use your imagination. With a little ingenuity, some creative financing, an affordable accessible house is within reach. Consult with an expert such as a rehabilitation specialist, building contractor, structural engineer, architect, experienced drafter, etc. As long as the basic framework needed is in place and can accommodate the modifications recommended by the expert, you can make it work. Don't be afraid to take your contractor/architect/drafter etc. along with you to look at the home itself, if need be. It is better to look at a home and find out if you can make modifications within your budget BEFORE making a purchase! Remember, the house needs to work with your needs, not create more problems.
You may also need to consult with an occupational rehabilitation specialist (therapist) for some of the finer equipment details (see How Do I Know What I Need) regarding access in the bathroom, kitchen, and other areas of the house being used by the occupant. This may be as simple as door handle changes and safety railings to full structural remodels to accommodate wheelchairs and extra equipment.
Option 5 - Building New
Building a new home is one way to ensure that your needs are covered but it is not a simple process and will take a great deal of time and patience to see it through. The most important thing to do if you are considering this option is to exhaustively shop around. Finding the right location with the right floor plan and the right building contractor are factors that only begin to scratch the surface of what is involved but the end results may be far more effective in accommodating the needs of your family. This, in itself, can be worth every minute of frustration waded through during the building process. Before you start down this road it is imperative to take a very serious look at your finances and the needs of your family. Do not jump into commitments without making a realistic assessment of your current situation first.
Linda recommends viewing the Universal and Accessible Design Home Plans catalog published by the UNC College of Design for ideas and suggestions.