Lack of accessible, affordable housing is one of the biggest obstacles to living independently in their communities for people with disabilities of all ages. While the Georgia Statewide Independent Living Council CANNOT find you a place to live, we hope this information will help you to help yourself. If the questions we have answered do not include your question, please email us!
How do I find a place to live?
If you need a house or an apartment, and are not seeking rental assistance, look for a place to live the same way anyone else would. Check the classified ads in your local newspapers. Check to see if your local grocery store or news stand has apartment-for-rent booklets. If you live in Atlanta, go to www.apartmentfinder.org. All of these ways to look are for “market rate” apartments where the landlord sets the rent based on what he or she can get from the supply of people who can pay. This method works for people earning average or above average income.
If you need wheelchair access, newer apartment complexes (less than 20 years old) are more likely to have step-free entries, wider doorways, kitchens you can get in & out of and room to turn around in the bathroom. This is true because of the Fair Housing Act, a federal law that changed the building standards for multi-family homes (condominiums and apartments). If the building was designed and constructed to take in tenants by in March of 1991, then it should have accessibility features. For more specific information about his law, see www.FairHousingFIRST.org
What if I can pay for access modifications but the landlord will not allow it?
As long as you agree to return the house or apartment to how the original state, your landlord must allow you to do the modifications. Refusing to allow you to widen a door or install a ramp violates the Fair Housing Act and you can file a complaint. www.FairHousingFIRST.org will tell you how.
What if I don’t earn a lot and need help paying the rent?
If you do not earn an average income, you might find an apartment by going to www.georgiahousingsearch.org. This web site lists apartments where the rents are lower than market rate. In these places, the rent is set by a government agency and is based on the income of most people in the area. You will have to meet the income range – above a certain amount and below a certain amount – to be allowed to apply to live there. These income ranges are based on the income of the people in that area so each one is different. The Georgia Housing Search web site includes tools to help you calculate the amount of rent you can afford and moving costs. You can search rental properties throughout the state and you can search by the number of bedrooms/bathrooms, rent range, disability access features, location and distance to public transportation. You should keep in mind that the landlords are the people who enter the information into the Georgia Housing Search website. Sometimes, they understand disability access and sometimes they don’t. So if you need accessibility because you cannot walk or climb any steps, you need be sure of the information, so telephone the rental offices before going to look.
What if I am on a fixed income and need a lot of help with rent?
If you have a very limited income – disability benefits for example – you may be eligible for rental assistance or subsidy. Many people call this “Section 8”. What this usually means is that you pay no more than 30% of your income for rent and the rest is paid by a government agency, most often HUD (Housing and Urban Development).
There are two types of HUD subsidies: (1) Project-based and (2) Tenant – based. Project – based subsidies mean that the rent subsidy is tied to a building. Project-based subsidies are paid directly to the owner of the property. The owner then rents units to qualified tenants who usually pay around 30% of their income toward rent. Some units are available specifically for those 62 and older or for people with particular disabilities such as intellectual disabilities. If you want to live in a certain place that you know is subsidized, you can go to that place (sometimes called a “project” or a “highrise”) and apply directly. But keep in mind that you will still have to qualify and be approved which can be a lengthy process.
With “tenant-based” based housing, the rent subsidy is tied to the person instead of a building. If you get this type of rental assistance, you get a voucher – which is like a ticket that you can take to a landlord who accepts it. You pay 30 % of your income toward the rent on privately owned home or apartment that you choose and the voucher pays the rest of the rent, up to a limit set by the state or local housing authority in your area. To find a landlord that will accept a voucher, go to www.georgiahousingsearch.org or ask your local housing authority office. A list of housing authority offices can be found under “How do I apply for rental assistance?”
Remember that any government program that helps pay the rent usually has a waiting list because there are many more people in need than places to live. Government programs also have detailed applications that include your credit history and criminal background checks. If you have bad credit, you will need to deal with that problem. If you have been convicted of a felony, you may not ever be eligible to apply. Check with your local housing authority for their specific requirements.
Because rental assistance is in short supply, you first may want to use your own connections. If you cannot afford a place on your own, do you know anyone who might want to share a place? Are there things you can do to help someone else in return for a free or low cost rent?
How do I apply for rental assistance/subsidy?
You apply at the housing authority that runs the program where you live (or want to live). In Georgia, there are 11 agencies that run rental assistance programs. The housing authority that covers 149 of Georgia’s 159 counties is the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. People in need of rental assistance must first place their name on a DCA waiting list. DCA maintains 149 waiting lists – one for each county. DCA notifies the public when the waiting list is opened. Check for these Public Notices in the legal section of the classified ads in the newspaper that serves the county where you live (or want to live). To see if a waiting list is open for a county, you can call (888) 858-6085 or (404) 327-7912. (Note that the (888) number is for people calling outside of the Atlanta area.) Applications are given on a first come-first served basis only when the waiting list is open. After your application is received, DCA will determine if you are eligible. If you are, you will be placed on the waiting list. Please note that applying does NOT mean that you will be approved. The process involves several steps including providing identification documents, credit check, criminal background check and so forth.
To learn more about the Rental Assistance program, you can go to DCA’s website www.dca.state.ga.us/ and click on “Rental Assistance” under the heading “Promoting Housing Options”.
Applying for Rental Assistance/Subsidy in GA’s other 10 counties
Ten counties in Georgia have their own housing authorities and run the rental assistance programs: 1) Bibb, 2) Chatham, 3) Clayton, 4) Cobb, 5) DeKalb (Decatur), 6) Fulton (Atlanta), 7) Glynn, 8) Muscogee, 9) Richmond and 10) Sumter. If you wish to move to any of these counties, please contact that county. A list of housing authorities is below. You will note that DeKalb and Fulton have several offices so contacting the office nearest to where you live (or want to live) is a good idea.
Americus Housing Authority (Sumter County)
825 N. Mayo Street
Americus, GA 31709
Housing Authority of DeKalb County
750 Commerce Drive, Suite 201
Decatur, GA 30030
Atlanta Housing Authority (City Limits)
230 John Wesley Dobbs Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30303
Decatur Housing Authority (City Limits)
750 Commerce Drive, Suite 110
Decatur, GA 30030
Augusta Housing Authority (Richmond County)
P.O. Box 3246
Augusta, GA 30914
East Point Housing Authority (City Limits)
1600 Conally Drive
East Point, GA 30344
Brunswick Housing Authority (Glynn County)
P.O. Box 1118
Brunswick, GA 31521
Fulton County Housing Authority (Unincorporated Fulton County)
10 Park Place South, SE, Suite 240
Atlanta, GA 30303
City of Marietta (City Limits)
P.O. Box 609
Marietta, GA 30061
Jonesboro Housing Authority (Clayton County)
P.O. Box 458
Jonesboro, GA 30237
College Park Housing Authority (City Limits)
2000 W. Princeton Ave.
College Park, GA 30337
Lithonia City Housing Authority (City Limits)
6878 Max Cleland Boulevard
Lithonia, GA 30058
Columbus Housing Authority (Muscogee County)
P.O. Box 630
Columbus, GA 31993
Macon-Bibb Housing Authority (Bibb County)
P.O. Box 4928
Macon, GA 31201-4928
Marietta Housing Authority (Cobb County)
P.O. Drawer K
Marietta, GA 30061
Savannah Housing Authority (Chatham County)
P.O. Box 1179
Savannah, GA 31402-1179
If you are one of the lucky people who get rental assistance, expect an annual review, which means that records will be checked to see if you still quality. You should also know that your home or apartment must be kept in pretty good condition because a lot of trash, dirt or damage can mean the end of any help with rent.
I bought my home before I became disabled. Among other things, I need a ramp to get in and out of the house. How can I get this done if I don’t have the money to pay for it?
The Center for Financial Independence and Innovation (CFII) was started to help people with disabilities secure affordable loans. To find out more, visit their web site at www.thecfii.org
You should not assume that a loan is impossible just because you have no income from a job. CFII may be able to work out a loan for people who live on disability benefits.
Some of the Centers for Independent Living (CIL) have home modification programs. The CIL nearest you can tell you about possible fund sources to help pay for access modifications but you should expect to contribute whatever you can afford.