In Pursuit of the American Dream Part Two – Home Ownership


As special needs parents, there are many choices to make as you run the obstacle course of raising a child with disabilities. From the minute your child is diagnosed with their “special need,” you set out in pursuit of the best life possible for your child.

Your starting point is tracking down experts, chasing resources and seeking ways to find “normal” and “typical.”  You climb over the rugged, sharp edges of bureaucracy weathering rejection and system inefficiencies in your pursuit of the American dream for your children.

The dream for our “typical children” is a good job, a loving partner and a “home of their own”.  Yet, as you find yourself racing through elementary and secondary education, the dream becomes shrouded by labels, limitations and low expectations which somehow surgically remove them from the prosperous life we equate with the American Dream.

The concepts of employment, home ownership, and financial self-determination rarely come up at school meetings.  For too many parents and people with special needs, a successful graduation outcome is life in poverty under custodial care.

Why is this so?

Perhaps it is an educational system which grossly underestimates the capabilities of special needs families and their children; perhaps it is the sticky residue of an institutional legacy which permeates classroom walls; or maybe it is just as a quote from former President George Bush, “We all suffer from the soft bigotry of low expectations.”  The reasons are numerous and as complicated as the systems we negotiate daily as parents.

Historically, people with disabilities and their families relied on Medicaid as they often lacked adequate financial resources to pay for wheelchairs, medical and dental costs, and mental health support past an acute episode.  Out of necessity, many students with disabilities approach graduation and see getting onto Social Security Income (SSI) as their American Dream.

True, Medicaid is an invaluable resource. Without it, most families would be unable to care for their loved one or they become a fundraiser, as I did for the first eleven years of Mikelle’s life. Back then, she was disqualified from SSI because of my income, which was not sufficient to pay for $20, 000 wheelchairs and $8,000 communication devices.

The upside of my fundraising experiences was that I learned how to strategize and partner with our community to get what Mikelle needed by investing in the community’s desire to make a difference.

Developing your strategy is a skill set critical to parenting. The ability to build a team helps develop an adequate safety net for your child’s future. The more resources your family members with disabilities have, the more powerful investment tools you have as you support their self-determination opportunities.

Home ownership is one such investment strategy.  I put home ownership on my “Top 10 List” of the most successful long term support strategies as you support your family members in obtaining their American Dream.

Let’s take a look at the advantages of home ownership.

According to the World Institute on Disability, there are many good reasons to own a home, if you are ready and can accept the responsibilities of homeownership.

“First, all the economic research suggests that there are three primary paths Americans have traditionally utilized to build wealth across generations. Education, small business development and home ownership are proven asset-building and wealth creation paths, even if you have a disability.”

Why Homeownership?

  1. The home belongs to the individual with disabilities. They cannot be moved from facility to facility depending on the needs of a residential provider. Whoever owns the home, owns the rules.
  2. With many of the Medicaid waiver programs existing throughout the country, the individual can hire their own supported living and personal care support staff to assist them in their home and community rather than being assigned staff from an agency.
  3. Through programs such as the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and the Hero Alliance, a person with a disability can obtain help in securing down payments, low-cost loans and even Section 8 funding for mortgage payments. (Note: Housing assistance programs vary from state to state even though Section 8 is a Federal Program. A rental voucher is portable from state to state, however, the mortgage voucher is only good on the property purchased and is a one-time voucher.)
  4. Section 8 mortgage vouchers increase if income goes down. This variable approach supports people with disabilities and a fluctuation in income, thus preserving home ownership in the case of economic hardship.

At last count, Mikelle is one of 125 individuals with disabilities utilizing Section 8 dollars to purchase her own condo. Working with a realtor who understood her needs, she was able to find a foreclosure, qualify for a home loan and obtain two grants to help her purchase the home at a very low-interest rate.

Since then, the Denver housing market has exploded, rents have skyrocketed, but her mortgage payment has remained stable. After seven years as a homeowner, Mikelle now has equity in her home which does not count against her Social Security benefits.

Why haven’t you been told about Section 8 and home ownership?  Most of the educators and rehabilitation personnel you work with don’t know about it. Because Mikelle wanted to have a home of her own, we investigated the resources, talked with many people and finally stumbled upon this amazing resource.

Self-determination is more than a meeting and a piece of paper.  It is economic.  It is your family member’s ability to dictate the terms of their own future and receive the support they need to do it successfully. That is what Supported Living is all about.

Home-ownership may not be for everyone. But, if an individual with a disability wants a home of their own, I suggest discovering what home-ownership might look like in their situation.

We have a great opportunity to unlock the promise of the American Dream for our family members with disabilities. After all, isn’t that what we all want?

If you have any questions, contact me.