Affordable, accessible and integrated housing is an essential base requirement for individuals who want to relocate back into their communities. The Promoting Independence Advisory Committee (Committee) continues to advocate for the creation of housing units for individuals designated as Texas’ Olmstead population. Individuals who are relocating from nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities for persons with mental retardation (ICFs/MR), or individuals who are in the targeted Olmstead populations under the Department of State Health Services’ (DSHS) provisions must have affordable, accessible and integrated community housing.
There are two substantial barriers to housing – the poverty of individuals who are living at the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) level ($674/month in fiscal year 2009) which limits the ability to even pay subsidized rental payments, and/or the lack of easy access to community-based services and supports. In addition, Texas has approximately 475 public housing authorities (PHAs), which get their funding directly from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The state housing financing agency (Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs [TDHCA]) has no jurisdiction over the PHAs, which makes the development of an overall housing plan difficult; TDHCA is also a PHA. This organizational structure limits the state from making statewide policy.
Efforts to expand housing choices for people with disabilities fall within one of three strategies:
- Development of new housing units.
- Affordability of existing housing units.
- Changes to public policy that facilitate development and/or access to housing.
The Committee has focused its efforts on: providing access to existing housing units, making changes to allocation plans, and the development of public policy that will lead to more available and accessible housing. The lack of Section 8 funds (permanent rental assistance) has forced the Committee to focus on the less-desirable tenant-based rental assistance (TBRA) program. TBRA does not provide permanent housing; it only provides two years of rental assistance and is meant to be a bridge toward a more permanent solution. Also, vouchers are not available in all parts of the state. Nevertheless, TBRA vouchers are generally more available than Section 8 vouchers, and make it possible for individuals to return to a community setting. In addition, TBRA provides true community integration, and fills the gap between income and fair market rents in our communities. The TBRA administrative process is a relatively fast and easy to use.
The Committee has concentrated its efforts in the following areas:
- Implementation and monitoring of Project Access vouchers from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA).
- Advocacy, planning, training, and implementation of TDHCA’s HOME funds.
- Collaborations with the local Public Housing Authorities.
- Annual review of PHA plans:
- Five-Year Action Plan.
- One-Year Action Plan.
- Low-Income Qualified Action Plan.
- Development of a Housing Inventory/Registry.
Housing Trust Fund Update
The 2010-11 General Appropriations Act provided TDHCA with approximately $22 million over the biennium for the Housing Trust Fund (Fund); these are much needed but limited general revenue dollars to fund state initiated housing programs.
The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs 2010-2011 Biennial Plan for the Housing Trust Fund includes $1,500,000 of funding for the Home Free Barrier Removal Program, a new program. This program will provide financial assistance in the form of grants to low income (80 percent Average Median Family Income [AMFI]) individuals with disabilities to make their homes (rental or owner) more accessible. This program is designed to provide one time grants for up to $15,000 in home modifications specifically needed for accessibility, and up to an additional $5,000 in other rehabilitation costs correlated with the barrier removal project. These funds will be targeted to allow for reasonable accommodation or modification for rental tenants or existing homeowners with disabilities no longer able to fully access their home. Funds will be provided in the form of a grant and no lien will be placed on the home of the disabled recipient. Construction standards and other criteria will be in compliance with the Texas State Architectural Barriers Act as further detailed in the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA). Eligible modifications for accessibility will include, but not be limited to, the following:
- Door widening
- Counter adjustments
- Buzzing or flashing devices (for people with visual/hearing impairment)
- Accessible door and faucet handles
- Shower grab bars and shower wands
- Accessible showers, toilets and sinks
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Texas continues to have Project Access vouchers made available by TDHCA. When HUD, in 2003, ceased funding of this valuable voucher program for the Olmstead population, TDHCA utilized vouchers from their Section 8 program to keep this housing assistance available for individuals with disabilities who reside in institutions. As of September 30, 2009, 228 households have been assisted through an original allocation of 35 vouchers, with vouchers currently reserved for an additional 20 households as they complete the application process and locate a home.
This outstanding performance is due to the generosity of local public housing authorities in maintaining assistance to households and returning the previously used Project Access voucher to the state for re-allocation. In 2008, TDHCA expanded the number of vouchers from 35 to 50 and in 2009 from 50 to 60 in recognition of demand for these vouchers. TDHCA also amended its Project Access rules to allow those vouchers to become available to individuals with disabilities who are currently using TDHCA’s TBRA vouchers that are within 90 days of expiration.
The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs intends to apply for additional vouchers through a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for HUD’s fiscal year 2009 Rental Assistance for Non-Elderly Persons With Disabilities. On June 22, 2009, HUD announced a draft NOFA that, when finalized, will make available approximately 4,000 additional Housing Choice Vouchers for non-elderly individuals with disabilities. Approximately 1,000 of these vouchers will be made available to non-elderly individuals transitioning from nursing homes into non-institutional housing; the balance does not have a de-institutionalization requirement. To increase resources in Texas for low income individuals with disabilities, TDHCA is eager to apply for the maximum number of vouchers permitted under this NOFA.
A barrier to access regarding the Project Access vouchers and the new NOFA is that they are only eligible for individuals who are 62 years of age or younger.
In addition to the Project Access program, the state HOME program has been used historically to provide rental assistance to individuals meeting Olmstead criteria, as well as the general disabled population. In 2009, TDHCA made available approximately $2.2 million for persons with disabilities including $1 million for rental development, and the remainder for TBRA and Homebuyer Assistance (HBA) with optional rehabilitation.
- Another barrier to access regarding all HOME funds and Project Access vouchers is if an individual is not eligible for a voucher as a result of a criminal history.
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Housing and Health Services Coordinating Council (Council)
The 81st Texas Legislature created the “Housing and Health Services Coordinating Council.” The objective of the Council is to increase the availability of service-enriched affordable housing for seniors and people with disabilities. Service-enriched housing is broadly defined as living arrangements that include health and/or social services in an accessible, supportive environment. TDHCA is the lead agency and provides staff support.
The Council is charged with improving inter-agency understanding of the confluence of housing and health services and increasing the number of staff in state housing and state health services agencies that are conversant in both housing and health care policies. The Council will achieve this goal by developing and implementing policies that coordinate and increase state efforts to offer service-enriched housing; identify barriers preventing or slowing service-enriched housing; develop a system to cross-educate staff in state housing and health services agencies as well as training and technical assistance to local housing and health services entities; and develop suggested performance measures. The Council shall also develop a biennial plan to implement the goals above as well as provide a report prior to every regular legislative session.
Furthermore, the legislation mandates research, evaluation and training activities aimed at increasing funding opportunities for service-enriched housing in the state of Texas. These activities include researching private and public funding opportunities and the requirements and guidelines for such funds and coordinating the communication between funding sources and state agencies and service providers; provide training materials and offer trainings that assist the development and funding of service enriched housing. TDHCA staff shall also create financial feasibility models of service-enriched housing that determine the financial viability of proposed projects. A database will be created to track all service-enriched housing developments that are funded by state or federal funds. An evaluation of these activities will be included in the biennial report to the governor and Legislative Budget Board.
Finally, to increase consistency in housing regulations, the Council will recommend changes to Medicaid waivers that are up for renewal; research best practices with respect to service-enriched housing and create and maintain a clearinghouse of information containing tools and resources for entities seeking to develop or fund service-enriched housing projects.
Collaboration with local Public Housing Authorities
Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) receive direct funding from HUD for the development, maintenance, and operation of rental housing and/or receive funding for housing rental vouchers. The rental vouchers provide financial assistance for individuals living in privately owned housing.
As part of the Money Follows the Person Demonstration (Demonstration), the U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD) sent two letters to all PHA Executive Directors. These letters reminded the PHAs of their obligations under the Olmstead decision, encouraged them to join with state Medicaid offices on the Demonstration so that services can be provided in the most integrated settings, and to work with state Medicaid offices to set local preferences for the use of housing units and housing rental vouchers and report back to HUD on these activities.
Promoting Independence (PI) staff has been working to help PHAs understand the long-term services and supports system and obtain support for providing housing opportunities for individuals wanting to move out of institutional care settings.
Promoting Independence staff has met with 25 PHAs in fiscal year 2009. The Fort Worth PHA has set aside ten public housing units and ten housing rental vouchers for people relocating from a nursing facility. The New Braunfels Housing Authority has received funding from TDHCA for approximately 28 TBRA vouchers and, after working with PI staff, was approved by TDHCA to allow a TBRA waiting list preference for people participating in the MFP Demonstration. PI staff is currently working with five other PHAs that have shown an interest in setting aside vouchers or public housing units or housing units for people participating in the MFP Demonstration.
The Department of Aging and Disability Services responded to a Proposed NOFA for HUD’s fiscal year 2009 Rental Assistance for Non-Elderly Persons with Disabilities; Request for Comments. The NOFA, once finalized, will make available 4,000 Section 8 Vouchers for people under the age of 62. One-thousand of the vouchers will be available for people relocating from an institution. PI staff have met with fifteen PHAs regarding the NOFA and will increase outreach to PHAs once the NOFA is issued.
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Annual Review of Public Housing Agency Plans
A Public Housing Agency Plan is a comprehensive guide to a PHAs policies, programs, operations, and strategies for meeting local housing needs and goals. There are two parts to the plan: the Five Year Plan and an Annual Plan. It is through the Annual Plan that a PHA receives its funding and prioritizes its activities.
The PHA Plan must include the following components:
- Assess the housing needs of the community.
- Identify the financial and other resources available to the PHA to help address those needs.
- Establish goals and strategies for addressing the needs identified.
- Translate the strategies into policies and programs.
All PHA plans must afford individuals interested in housing issues the opportunity to review and provide comments to the PHA Plan. As part of the Demonstration, the Committee will review TDHCA’s housing plans, in its role as a PHA, to provide comments on the increasing need for affordable, accessible, and integrated housing opportunities for people with disabilities. The Committee will also review at least three other local PHA Plans each year to help prepare advocates for their own review and comments at public hearings of PHAs.
Development of a Housing Inventory/Registry
The Department of Aging and Disability Services is working in partnership with the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service and other private and government organizations to develop a housing inventory/registry, which will help people find affordable, accessible, and integrated housing.
The inventory/registry, called the Texas Housing Counselor is now available at the TLIHIS website (www.texashousingcounselor.org) and uses housing information supplied by TDHCA, Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation (TSAHC), Texas Bond Review Board (BRB), HUD, United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development Division, and the United Cerebral Palsy of Texas. With the Texas Housing Counselor, a person answers a few simple questions and this powerful resource will provides information about several affordable housing options located in the community of their choice.
DADS’ Promoting Independence Office is once again working with the Texas Disability Policy Consortium to help organize the 2010 Texas Housing and Transportation Summit. This two day event will educate consumers, advocates, housing and transportation professionals about current housing and transportation. The conference will also have presentations on innovative programs that may help improve or increase affordable housing opportunities and transportation services in Texas.
The Committee recognizes the need for affordable, accessible housing that is integrated. Integrated housing is defined as normal, ordinary living arrangements typical of the general population. Integration is achieved when individuals with disabilities choose ordinary, typical housing units that are located among individuals who do not have disabilities or other special needs.
The focus on integration is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Olmstead decision. Segregated housing restricts the ability of residents to interact with the community and offers support to “…unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life…” (Olmstead v. L.C., 28 CFR, pt 35, App.A, p. 450). The ADA requires that public systems provide services to people with disabilities in “regular settings”, even where the same services are available in segregated settings. In other words, separate but equal is as wrong for people with disabilities as it is for people in other protected classes.
PIAC will continue to support TDHCA’s Integrated Housing Rule and any rule changes that would result in an increase in integrated housing units.
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July 16, 2010