Minor Home Modification Program Makes Major Impact

Independent Living Centers Continue Breaking Down Barriers to Affordable, Accessible Housing Services

Aug 08, 2013, 17:54 ET from California State Independent Living Council (SILC)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Aug. 8, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- With a goal of making homes safer and more accessible and affordable for individuals living with disabilities to remain in their homes and connect to their communities, Placer Independent Resource Services (PIRS), an Independent Living Center (ILC), is making a major impact with its Minor Home Modification Program (MHM Program).  Serving residents in Placer County, the MHM Program is particularly important when considering how affordable housing is defined and who is eligible for loans and grants.  According to PIRS Executive Director Susan "Tink" Miller, "Placer County's high median income threshold, coupled with lower population compared to urban areas, often blocks eligibility for loans and grants.  This, combined with the fact that overall rental rates continue to climb, makes this program incredibly important to the communities we serve."

Increasing housing affordability and accessibility for people with disabilities is a significant factor to living independently. People with disabilities tend to have lower incomes, making it difficult to afford independent housing. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 20.5 percent of adults with disabilities are in the workforce compared to 69.1 percent for people without disabilities. In 2010, 13.5 percent of people with disabilities were living below the poverty level. This, in conjunction with accessibility problems and the fact that housing often is rented to people on a first-come, first-serve basis, continues to create barriers for people living with disabilities.

The MHM Program, funded mainly by the Area 4 Agency on Aging, is PIRS's most popular program, serving up to an average of 15 individuals per month. With the funds, Miller was able to hire a part-time program coordinator; however, most of the work is done by skilled volunteers supervised by the coordinator. PIRS works with individuals and landlords to get their permission and required permits in addition to purchasing all of the materials and devices needed to make residents safer by removing barriers and hazards. According to Miller, getting a permit for a mobile home park is oftentimes impossible. "Permits take time, but obtaining one for a mobile home park is very complicated," explained Miller. "One of my favorite success stories involved a year of working through the process of design and approvals to build a ramp for an individual living in a mobile home park.  The day we got the green light, we bought the materials and all of our volunteers came out to build the ramp for a man who had been housebound for the entire year. When he wheeled down the ramp, he had a huge smile and was waving his arms as if he was on a roller coaster. This is an example of the impact we make in individuals' lives."

"Affordability and accessibility are very real obstacles for individuals with disabilities to live independently," said State Independent Living Council (SILC) Executive Director Liz Pazdral. "Programs and services, like PIRS's MHM Program, are necessary in light of the limited funding and accessible housing available, particularly in non-urban communities."

Several efforts are underway to increase the supply of affordable, accessible housing. Senate Bill 391 (DeSaulnier) and Senate Bill1 (Steinberg) would create permanent funding sources to increase the supply of affordable housing.  Additionally, if passed, Senate Bill 550 (Jackson) will be instrumental in improving accessibility. Additionally, this last year, ILCs collaborated with the California Department of Rehabilitation in working with the California Housing and Community Development Agency and the California Department of Health Services to acquire a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant that increases affordable housing to a broadly defined group of individuals (individuals with disabilities, seniors, veterans and individuals living with mental health disabilities). The grant provides incentives for developers to be inclusive of these particular groups without creating a segregated community.

In the meantime, the MHM Program will continue to be in demand.  Miller has seen the demographic makeup in PIRS's service area shift from two-thirds under age 55 to two-thirds above 55 years of age. And, although PIRS doesn't charge a fee for the MHM Program, as required by the Older Americans Act, the ILC does receive grants and donations.

"We are grateful for our relationship with the Area 4 Agency on Aging for making the MHM Program an ongoing reality for the communities we serve.  And, we appreciate the donations we received last year, which totaled approximately $3,500.  Every last cent was put back into the program to  continue building threshold ramps, installing stability bars and making minor modifications in homes that have a major impact on someone's life."

The California State Independent Living Council (SILC) is an independent state agency which, in cooperation with the California State Department of Rehabilitation, prepares and monitors the State Plan for Independent Living.

The SILC Mission: To Create Policy and System Change for Independent Living 

SOURCE California State Independent Living Council (SILC)