Q. At the moment I am probably like many other people who make a major purchase and then start second-guessing themselves, but I am hoping that some good advice will take away some of my trepidation. As background, I recently changed my status from a renter of apartments and small houses to that of a homeowner. That may not seem like a big deal, but some contributing factors make it big for me.
I use a power wheelchair and had saved up sufficient money for the down payment on a mortgage, thanks to being steadily employed. I also protected my credit, even when times were tough, so no co-signer was needed. Not surprisingly, there will be several modifications needed to make this home accessible. Even though it is a single-level ranch-style home, it still requires some additional work for basic access, like a sturdy entry ramp, widened doorways and some relatively minor changes in the bathroom. Long term, I would like to remove the bathtub and convert it to a roll-in shower for convenience.
One of the first places I turned for assistance was a government agency — our state vocational rehabilitation agency — but was disappointed to learn that I have accumulated too much money and that my salary alone surpasses their limitation; I explained to them that I need to have enough money to live and sufficient income from my job to pay for things like mortgage payments, medical expenses and food. Even though an accessible place to live would help me remain productive and independent throughout my life, they could not factor that into their calculations. Are there other resources available to people like me so that we can make access improvements or repairs?
— Outside looking in at the moment
A. Congratulations on the home purchase. As you discovered, few funding options are available from the normal disability support programs. Many states have assistive technology loan programs that can fund access modifications, but they require good credit and the ability to pay back the loan. In your case, rather than taking on an additional monthly payment, it might be wise to seek help from organizations that use skilled volunteers to make these types of improvements on behalf of seniors and people with disabilities. Rebuilding Together is a nonprofit composed mainly of retirees who worked in the building construction trades during their careers. They schedule their work in advance, so contact a local chapter at your first opportunity to fill out an application.
Similar skilled help may be available from volunteers affiliated with local chapters of the Building Industry Association, the Master Builders Association or the National Association of Homebuilders. The Master Builders Association of King & Snohomish Counties, in Washington State, calls their program Rampathon. Their volunteers focus on constructing, repairing or replacing ramps. Don’t overlook other organizations representing the building trades, like the Carpenters Union, as they may have similar voluntary programs.
Some of the needed work could go beyond actual construction. Repainting trim or even painting a new ramp can be accomplished by members of a retired senior volunteer program or volunteers from a local church or civic organization. There may be other improvements that involve structural changes, plumbing or electricity; in those cases, be sure that you have licensed individuals doing the work to protect your investment and avoid problems related to your homeowner’s insurance or a local building inspector. That is when some extra money comes in handy, and it may be time to seek financial assistance from people who under¬stand your plight.
Crowdfunding websites like GoFundMe or HelpHOPELive host requests for all types of worthwhile causes. The latter program focuses on medically related needs, a category that includes accessibility, so there may be a tax deduction available to donors. If you have a large circle of friends and family, it might be worth giving it a try. Since there is great value in learning from our peers, I would also recommend check¬ing with the local chapter of United Spinal Association to see what type of resources might be available in your area. Local Independent Living Centers may be able to provide you with some of that same information. If it worked for someone else, it may work for you as well. Good luck, and enjoy your new home.
• Rebuilding Together, rebuildingtogether.org
• Independent Living Centers, www.ilru.org
• United Spinal Chapters, www.spinalcord.org/chapters/directory
• GoFundMe, www.gofundme.com
• Help Hope Live, helphopelive.org
• National Assn of Home Builders, www.nahb.org
• Master Builders Association, www.mba-ks.com/giving-back/rampathon