Home Money Affordable housing for the disabled to increase in the southeast in 2015

Affordable housing for the disabled to increase in the southeast in 2015

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Shirley Osborne lives in a small apartment by herself at the age of 76. She has lived there for seven years, and with each passing day, it gets harder for her to breathe. Osborne is suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which reduces airflow to the lungs and makes it increasingly difficult to breathe over time. Her disease is normally caused by smoking, as is true in her case, but it also occurs as a result of exposure to air-pollution or chemical fumes.

Osborne previously worked as a nurse’s aid at Hickory Creek Nursing Center. She took care of eight patients, dressing, showering and feeding them before her day was done.

In 1992 Osborne was forced to quit because she could not keep up with the work demanded of her due to her condition.

“When I would exert myself, I would get out of breath and I would get cold sweats,” she said in a phone interview. “I just had to slow down. Well, we had a certain amount of time to get stuff done, and I just couldn’t do what I was supposed to do, so I had to quit.”

In addition to losing her job, Osborne was no longer able to interact with and assist others suffering from disabilities. She lost her financial independence when the tables turned and she became the one who needed assistance.

“I love old people,” Osborne said. “I’m a people person, and I really liked my job. You couldn’t talk very long [to your patients] because you had so many patients — it wasn’t long enough. I’ll put it that way.”

Osborne lives month to month now, struggling to pay her bills. This month she was left with $52.05 in her bank account for her other expenses. She receives $126 in food stamps per month, and Housing and Urban Development assists her with paying her rent.

“You have to make do with what you got, and sometimes you get real frustrated,” she said.

Osborne is just one of 24.9 percent of adults unable to pay their medical bills and other basic necessities in Appalachia, according to a survey conducted by Ohio Medicaid in 2011. However, a new federal grant is expected to create easier accessibility in Ohio to one of these basic necessities: affordable housing. The grant, formally known as Ohio 811, will create 508 housing units later this year to assist those suffering from disabilities with the cost of rent, according to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

How much of the $11.9 million grant will go to southeast Ohio is unclear until the housing agency knows how many property owners and properties will be participating in the program, said the agency’s Director of Communications and Marketing Arlyne Alston in an email.

The agency plans to focus 60 percent of the grant on properties in the eight biggest cities in Ohio — Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, Dayton, Youngstown, and Canton, where the state’s low income disabled residents are concentrated. The remaining 40 percent will be spread throughout the rest of the state’s properties, said the agency’s Chief of Staff Sean Thomas in a phone interview.

One of those properties includes Beaumont Greene, part of Woda Management & Real Estate and the affordable housing property where Osborne lives.

Jody Carder, the senior vice president of Woda Management & Real Estate, is an example of a developer who works with the state’s housing finance agency to provide affordable housing in southeast Ohio. She said the company will not have to make any adjustments for the new disabilities grant. The group has already built a number of affordable housing units that can be modified for disabled tenants.

“The number one thing for anybody is to have housing. It’s very good to have a home base, to have a roof over your head and have utilities…and from that point on you can get other services and take care of other issues but as long as you have a roof over your head — and a nice one,” Carder said.

The 811 program helps households with at least one person in the family who is suffering from physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities. The program also helps people with chronic mental illness and households that only earn up to 30 percent of the area’s median income. This means that the average family in Athens County that qualifies for the program earns up to $10,150, according to median income data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Throughout Ohio, “we are definitely seeing a growing number of people with disabilities who need services and also more money for housing,” Thomas said. “That’s definitely a growing population, especially as the overall Ohio population grows older as well. So it’s definitely a big need for Ohio to find more housing for folks with very low incomes and with a disability.”

The program will work similarly to other housing programs. The family will have to pay 30 percent of their income in rent, and the rental assistance will cover the difference.

“At the earliest, the program is anticipated to start in late 2015 or early 2016,” said Ohio Medicaid Public Informations Officer Sam Rossi. “In the meantime, partner agencies and stakeholders are preparing for the logistics of implementing and operating the 811 rental program. [The] 811 properties haven’t been selected yet, so the locations of any specific health boards that could be involved are unavailable.”

Carder explains that while the program is not in effect right now, Woda Property is trying to prepare for the new units and subsidies.

“It’s new for all of us. I don’t have the first unit either. There’s a few nuances we will have to work out as I said earlier. We all work together to accomplish what we need to accomplish, so it is a good group of people as far as getting things done. It’s a very good public-private partnership,” Carder said.

The grant is the result of a change to a federal program that provides rental subsidies for disabled people so they have the chance to live independently.

The program shifted in 2011 from providing capital grants directly to nonprofits that built housing to providing housing agencies grants through a competitive application process. The grants can be used to support and develop rental properties throughout the state. Ohio’s housing agency did not win this grant the first year it was available, but it was able to get the funding on its second try, Thomas said.

“We’ve funded over 1,000 affordable housing properties throughout the state through 1987, so this program, which is brand new — this is our first award of this — this program is designed to provide additional rental subsidy to persons with extremely low incomes and have at least one person in their household with a disability.

“There’s definitely a great need for affordable housing, in general, in Ohio,” Thomas said. “The median income has remained flat for many years, but the housing costs have increased. Especially the last two years, and I think you’ve noticed throughout the state [people are] going from homeownership to rental housing and that drives up the rent, and so rent and operating costs are going up.”

The housing agency plans to meet with property owners who were previously awarded housing tax credits, the major program that drove affordable housing development incentives in Ohio, to find out if the owners want to participate in the program, Thomas said. Once an agreement is reached, the property owners must set aside up to 25 percent of their units for the subsidy program and sign a contract agreeing to the subsidy for 20 years.

The Ohio Department of Medicaid is working with county mental health and disability boards to develop a referral waiting list for those eligible for the program.

Although the Ohio Housing Finance Agency did not receive the grant last year, Thomas said the competition is a good thing, and it pushed his team to better form a partnership with Medicaid and prepare for the funding.

Meanwhile, Osborne continues to live at Beaumont Greene, trying to make it month-to-month by herself. Although she has nine children, all grown up, none of them are in a place to help her financially. Osborne say without the current program, she would have no roof over her head, and she believes there should be more money invested in affordable housing to help others, an act she said she misses.

“When I was working, I was getting more money…it was devastating,” Osborne said. “I think it would be good to build a place for these people, like me, that need it.”

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