Developing a housing strategy using AFC (our 2017 Autism Month housing Tweets)

In honor of Autism Month, Autism Housing Pathways described ways to develop a housing strategy based on MassHealth’s Adult Family Care/Adult Foster Care program. The outline was issued as a series of daily Tweets in April. Here they are, in a single post. Bear in mind, this strategy is specific to Massachusetts.

  1. It’s Autism Month. Let’s look at developing a housing plan, one Tweet at a time.
  2. The Adult Family Care (AFC) program can pay you to provide support to your adult child who lives with you.
  3. AFC is a program of MassHealth. MassHealth is Medicaid. Changes to Medicaid could endanger AFC.
  4. To qualify for AFC, your child must need prompting with 1 or more activities of daily living. You can’t be the guardian.
  5. Consider saving the AFC stipend (not in your child’s name). It’s yours, and it’s tax free.
  6. Get your child on the Section 8 waiting list at 18 (or NOW, if they’re over 18). Go to to learn how.
  7. It may be a 10 year wait to get a Section 8 voucher. Work on living skills while you wait.
  8. Are you saving the AFC stipend? If your family member waits 10 years for Sec. 8, that’s a $90K nest egg.
  9. Section 8 is a part of HUD. A 13% cut in the HUD budget is proposed. The wait for a voucher could get longer.
  10. Your child is at the top of the Sec. 8 list! What’s your plan? You’ve only got 60 days (120 w/extension) to use the voucher.
  11. One option: your child could rent a two bedroom apt. w/ Sec. 8. An Adult Foster Care provider could move in, too.
  12. You could add a 2 bedroom accessory unit to your house for your child and an Adult Foster Care provider.
  13. How to pay to add on the accessory unit? You saved the Adult Family Care stipend, right? It’s a start.
  14. You could supplement what you saved from AFC with up to $30K from the Home Modification Loan Program.
  15. Need some more? Consider a home equity loan. Assume construction costs of at least $200/sq. ft.
  16. Make sure local zoning permits accessory units (possibly via a special permit). Otherwise, you may need to move first.
  17. S. 729 would allow accessory units for a disabled family member as of right on lots of 5,000+ sq. ft.
  18. Or you could buy a condo for your child with space for an Adult Foster Care provider, using the AFC savings for a down payment.
  19. Need a mortgage? Fannie Mae lets you get a 5% down mortgage to buy a home for a disabled adult child.
  20. Your child uses Sec. 8 to pay you rent; you use the rent to pay the mortgage.
  21. Can’t carry (or qualify) for two mortgages? One option is to sell your house and buy a duplex.
  22. Or you could consider buying a three-family, and using the rent from the third unit for respite, maintenance, etc.
  23. Or you could buy that three family with another family; the kids live together with an Adult Foster Care provider.
  24. Whatever you do, try to get individual support hours from DDS to help your child work on skills and get into the community.
  25. Look into assistive technology to help increase your child’s independence.
  26. If eligible, apply for the DDS Adult Supports waiver, to help secure ongoing access to supports.
  27. For those on a DDS waiver, ½ of costs are paid by Medicaid. Does your child go to Day Hab? That’s Medicaid, too.
  28. If Congress block grants Medicaid, that could end the entitlement to AFC, PCA, and Day Hab.
  29. The Devil is in the details. Come to a daylong housing workshop.
  30. Consider individualized housing counseling.

Getting the most out of Autism Housing Pathways

Autism Housing Pathways (AHP) has been around for almost 7 years now. In that time, we have developed a number of workshops, presentations, and services. Many are free, some have a cost associated with them. While all are available a la carte, you will get the most out of your interactions with AHP if you take a systematic approach to using our services to put together a housing strategy for your family member.

  1. Start by reading the Turning 18 checklist to get an idea of what you need to do when your family member is approaching 18.
  2. Come to a presentation of “Thinking about housing”. This two hour program is Housing 101, and will introduce you to the funding streams and regulations you need to be familiar with to develop a housing strategy.
  3. Use My Benefits Generator to give you an idea of what MassHealth disability programs you might consider applying for.
  4. If your family member is 18, visit to learn how to apply for a Section 8 housing voucher. Still confused? Sign up for one of our Section 8 sign-up clinics.
  5. As your family member approaches 22 (or if they are already 22 or older), attend a daylong housing workshop, “Learning about housing”, to get a deeper understanding of the process. Once you have completed the workshop, there will be opportunities to connect with others who have participated.
  6. Download a free housing workbook for your family member to help them visualize the process and develop their own housing vision.
  7. Look at our resources on building living skills, including our links on skills for living, our visual supports, and our hygiene and cleaning schedule.
  8. Check out our webinar on assistive technology (slides are here) and the technology page on our sister site,
  9. Consider person-centered planning to get assistance in crystallizing the housing vision and working out the steps to get there.
  10. Need more assistance? Consider signing up for a free 50 minute housing counseling session (when available). Additional consultation is available on a fee-for-service basis.
  11. Always remember that detailed information, including mortgage calculators, boilerplate legal language for various home ownership models, and information related to housing location, design, and construction, is available in the Members section of our website.

Housing, in a month’s worth of Tweets

In April, Autism Housing Pathways posted a series of Tweet length “Autism Month Housing Thoughts of the Day”. They comprised a mini-tutorial on housing for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities, including housing subsidies and supportive services. They are republished here, with three additional comments to add information on Medicaid waivers. Acronyms are spelled out here, as they were not in the original Tweets. To learn more about many of the services mentioned, check out our Turning 18 checklist.

  1. Of those with family involvement, only about 12% will be both eligible and prioritized for Community Based Residential Services through the Dept. of Developmental Services (DDS) at age 22.
  2. It frequently takes 5-10 years to plan and implement a housing strategy; start at 18 if the goal is independent living by 30.
  3. The housing equation is: bricks & mortar + food + services = housing. There are subsidies for all, but not all can be combined.
  4. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can be used for any part of the housing equation. People can apply based on their own income at 18.
  5. SSI has asset and income caps; other income can reduce benefits. Try to avoid assets in the person’s own name.
  6. SSI makes someone automatically eligible for MassHealth (Medicaid). Medicaid is the main way to pay for services.
  7. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can be used for any part of the housing equation. Assets and unearned income do not affect benefits.
  8. SSDI makes you eligible for Medicare (not Medicaid) after 2 years. Medicare can’t be used for long-term services.
  9. For those disabled before 22, SSDI can be based on their own income or a parent’s, once the parent retires.
  10. Try not to retire until your child receives SSI as an adult. Otherwise, they may not qualify for MassHealth.
  11. Those who don’t qualify for MassHealth can qualify for CommonHealth if they work 40 hours/month.
  12. People can also qualify for CommonHealth by meeting a one-time spend-down.
  13. The most important housing subsidy is Section 8. Apply at age 18. Go to to learn how.
  14. The wait for a Sec. 8 voucher can be up to 12 years. Apply at 18.
  15. A family member can be the Sec. 8 landlord for a person with a disability. But they can’t live in the same unit.
  16. Someone who needs a live-in aide can get a 2-bedroom Sec. 8 voucher. But the aide can’t be immediate family.
  17. Food stamps and Sec. 8 will not result in a reduction of SSI benefits. People usually qualify for food stamps at age 22.
  18. The food stamp recipient needs to buy and prepare food “substantially separately” from the rest of the household.
  19. MassHealth State Plan Services are the main way to pay for long-term services and supports.[Addendum: other than Medicaid waivers — waivers are addressed below.]
  20. MassHealth State Plan Services are entitlements. There are no waiting lists if you qualify.
  21. Adult Foster/Family Care (AFC), Personal Care Attendant (PCA), and Group AFC (GAFC) are state plan services.
  22. You can’t combine AFC, PCA, and GAFC. Pick one.
  23. AFC pays a stipend to a caregiver who lives with the person. A parent who is not a guardian can be a caregiver.
  24. Consider saving the AFC stipend while waiting for a Sec. 8 voucher. It goes a long way toward a down-payment.
  25. AFC generally can’t be combined with food stamps.
  26. GAFC can only be used in assisted living or subsidized housing – not with a mobile Sec. 8 voucher.
  27. DDS individual support hours can be used with AFC, PCA, or GAFC.
  28. DDS housing dollars can only be used in settings with 5 people or less under one roof.
  29. Senate bill 2202 (formerly S. 708) would let families take out a loan to create an accessory apartment. Learn more:
  30. Housing + Living Skills = Independent Living:
  31. Bonus day: “Learning about housing” webinar May 17th

Addendum — Medicaid waivers:

  1. Those receiving services from DDS can apply for a Medicaid waiver. The feds reimburse the state for half the cost of waiver services.
  2. Waiver services are portable, meaning the dollars are attached to the person on the waiver, and can move with the person.
  3. There are three kinds of waivers: Intensive Supports, Community Living, and Adult Supports.




Section 8 and other housing subsidies (yes, this does apply to your family member)

There is a basic equation for creating supported housing for a family member with a permanent disability:

Housing + Food + Services = Supported Housing.

There is a little more to it, of course, such as transportation and recreation. But solving the basic equation is the most important part of the process.

For each element of the equation, there are government subsidies for which your family member may be eligible. Some of them can be used only for housing, some only for food, some only for services, and some may be used for anything.

The most important housing subsidy is Section 8. Most people have heard of Section 8, but there are a lot of preconceived notions about it that are often wrong. Let’s talk a little about Section 8, and why it is so important that your family member apply for it.

Section 8 is a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It is designed to make housing affordable for those who make less than 50% of the average income in a given geographic area. Many families make the mistake of thinking their family member isn’t eligible because their household income is too high. This would be true if their family member wished to use the voucher to live in the same unit as the rest of the family. But if the goal is for the family member to move into their own home, this isn’t the case. If your family member is 18 or over, and has a permanent disability that results in a limited income, he or she is almost certainly eligible for Section 8.

There are two types of Section 8: mobile (sometimes called portable or tenant-based) and project-based. Mobile Section 8 is a voucher assigned to a person or household: it can be used to rent a house or apartment on the open market. The voucher holder pays 1/3 of his/her income to the landlord, and the organization that issued the voucher (usually a local housing authority) pays the rest of the rent to the landlord, using money from HUD. When the voucher holder moves, he/she takes the voucher to their next home. Project-based Section 8 is different; it is not assigned to a person or household, but to a piece of property, like an apartment in a specific housing project. The resident again only pays 1/3 of his/her income in rent, but cannot take the voucher with him/her when moving.

Often people confuse the two types of Section 8, and assume that applying for Section 8 means their family member will have to live in a housing project. In reality, holding a mobile Section 8 voucher allows for a high degree of flexibility. After the first year of using a mobile voucher, the user can take it anywhere in the U.S. And while normally a voucher holder cannot rent from a family member, this is frequently allowed for voucher holders with a disability, as a reasonable accommodation, provided the voucher holder doesn’t live in the same unit as the landlord. A voucher holder with a disability who needs a live in aide can use the voucher to rent a two-bedroom unit. Provided the aide is someone who wouldn’t be living with the person if not providing care, the aide’s income doesn’t count in qualifying for Section 8, and the aide doesn’t need to pay rent. (Provisions for aides also apply to project-based Section 8.)

Because a mobile Section 8 voucher is so useful, waiting lists are extremely long. In Massachusetts, it can take up to twelve years to get a voucher, depending on where you live. That’s why it is imperative for your family member to apply for Section 8 as soon as he/she turns 18, if he/she wants to live on his/her own by age 30. To learn more about mobile Section 8 and how to apply for it, visit Autism Housing Pathways’ companion website, “18? Section 8!”.

In addition to mobile Section 8, there are other kinds of subsidized and affordable housing. While not as flexible as mobile Section 8, they are worth knowing about; one of them might be a good fit for your family member. They are:

  • State elderly housing: 13.5% of beds in state-supported elderly housing in Mass. are reserved for younger individuals (aged 22 and up) with disabilities.
  • Project-based housing: this includes both project-based Section 8 and projects funded by local housing authorities.
  • Private affordable housing: developers who received tax credits are often required to rent a percentage of units at an “affordable rate” (often 30% of 60% of the area’s average income). While this is not usually affordable for individuals whose only income is Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a parent or other family member can often structure a regular payment to the individual raising income high enough to make it doable. (This will result in a reduction in the person’s SSI, though.)
  • Single Room Occupancy housing through Caritas Communities: this is a furnished room in a larger building, with shared bathroom and cooking facilities. Rent is usually about $145/week. Caritas properties are in walking distance to mass transit.
  • Mass. housing vouchers: Massachusetts has two types of housing vouchers of its own, the Mass. Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) and the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP). They work similarly to mobile Section 8, but an MRVP voucher holder pays 35%-40% of his/her income in rent, rather than 30%. AHVP is specifically for persons with disabilities. These waiting lists are frequently closed, and when open are usually prioritized for the homeless, but are worth knowing about.

To learn more about some of these types of housing, check out our affordable housing links  or consider attending one of Autism Housing Pathways’ workshops on housing.

Independent living skills, the horse that pulls the housing cart

In the last four months, I’ve participated in person-centered planning for a number of young adults with developmental disabilities. The goal of these plans was to create a housing strategy, ideally to be implemented in the next 1-3 years. What turned out to be the elephant in the room in all these plans was the need to improve independent living skills. It didn’t matter if the individual was college-bound or likely to always need 24/7 supports — all needed work in this area if they were to live as independently as they were capable of doing. Given the shortage of supportive services, and the high cost of paying for them out of pocket, it became clear that skills training needed to be a top priority.

While my person-centered planning experience brought this realization into sharp focus, it wasn’t new. I have seen this pattern over many years, including in my own family. Schools tend to lack experience in teaching daily living skills, and prefer to focus on academics. The Massachusetts curriculum frameworks have few objectives related to living skills, and none that are addressed by high-stakes testing, so there is no obvious pressure placed on schools by the state to address the issue.

Families are frequently overwhelmed simply trying to get their student with special needs to school on time, to any therapies, and through any homework – and that does not begin to address the demands of work and caring for other children. A common dynamic is that families have attempted to teach their child skills in a haphazard fashion, adolescence has created a bit of a power struggle, and the fledgling adult perceives direction from Mom or Dad as nagging. If there is a history of Mom or Dad eventually giving up (“It’s easier to do it myself”), the young person may have learned to wait them out. More subtly, there may be unaddressed fears that contribute to an unwillingness to learn skills – a common one is fear of using the stove. Either way, the result is learned dependence that can hinder a young person’s ability to move out on their own.

So, how do you break the cycle? One good place to start is by taking inventory, to find out what skills your child has and what they need. The Adolescent Autonomy Checklist is a wonderfully comprehensive list of skills for independent living. It covers everything from setting the table to opening a bank account. Not all skills are realistic for all individuals, but just about anyone will benefit from something on this list. You might try completing the list yourself, and, if appropriate, have your family member complete it, too. Once you’ve taken inventory, pick a few key skills to work on. Here are a few examples, aimed at very different hypothetical individuals.

• Make a sandwich
• Wash towels
• Load the dishwasher

• Make dinner with a crockpot
• Use a debit card
• Take The Ride

• Find a street address
• Turn off the water main
• Flip a circuit breaker
• Fill out a 1040-EZ

Don’t try to do all the instruction yourself, especially if your family dynamic has reached the power struggle stage. Enlist the help of others. One very important place to start is the school, if your family member has not graduated or aged out. Eligibility for special education extends to age 22. Even if MCAS has been passed, you can defer taking a diploma while receiving transition services — IDEA was “designed to meet (students’) unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living”. Getting out the door, clean and dressed for work, and able to navigate to the workplace all fit the bill. Skills training can and should be included in the IEP and addressed in the transition plan.

Another resource is the Centers for Independent Living. Run by and for people with disabilities, they frequently have programs where slightly older adults with disabilities take on a coaching role, teaching skills like money management and navigating public transportation. Here are links to Mass. CILs and to organizations with similar programs:

Mass. Independent Living Centers
Easter Seals of Mass.

Don’t forget to include siblings and family friends. Travel training may sound dull, but going to Game Stop on the bus with a sibling might be an adventure. Similarly, learning to cook with Mom may sound like a chore, but working with adult family friends to prepare and host a series of dinner parties at different houses is a whole different matter.

Enlist technology. One young man was intrigued by learning to make a sandwich when the first step was for him to take pictures of every step of Dad making a sandwich. Similarly, there are a number of apps that can be very useful for teaching skills. Some examples can be found at

Probe hidden barriers to find work-arounds. For example, someone afraid of the stove may be willing to cook with a crockpot, a microwave, a rice cooker, or a magnetic induction burner. Someone afraid to drive to a certain destination may be nervous because he’s never driven through a toll booth. There may be a route that doesn’t involve tolls, or the person may overcome the fear if he’s accompanied by someone the first time. Ask why the person isn’t willing to do something – “Does X make you nervous? Why?” You may be surprised by the answer.

Most importantly, look for buy-in from your family member. If he or she doesn’t own it, it isn’t happening. Some of this is a matter of framing. Just about all young people want their independence. Help them understand skills are the passport to independence. If they put up a road block, find a way around it. The person who doesn’t want to fold clothes may be willing to fold towels. Pride is also a powerful motivator. Someone who sees cooking for herself as a chore may be excited by the idea of cooking for the family. To help make the connection between skills and independent living, consider using Autism Housing Pathways’ housing workbooks (; scroll down to “Housing workbooks”). Each touches on necessary skills, in the context of a larger workbook on living independently.

Acquiring better living skills is a key to cost-effective housing and successful independence. Taken in small chunks, it’s not only do-able, it’s a source of pride and accomplishment. Good luck!

(Nothing written on this website is intended or should be construed as legal, financial, or other professional advice. For a complete legal disclaimer, please click here.)

“Housing? I’ll think about that tomorrow…”

For many families, the demands of getting through the day (or the school year!) with a child with developmental disabilities are all consuming. The future remains a vague concern, sometimes addressed with the thought, “I’ll just have to live forever”, or, “I’ll get through childhood and the state will take care of it”.

The reality is, of course, that parents won’t live forever, and that, frequently, the state will do relatively little until the parents are gone or their health has deteriorated. At that point, parents have little to no ability to help shape supports and services that will best meet the needs of their child.

What is the housing landscape for people with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts? About 200-250 people with DD receive 24/7 housing supports from the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) when they turn 22. This is out of an overall “Turning 22 class” of 800+ people. Let’s talk about who is in the Turning 22 class, and who are the people who receive full-time housing supports.

The Turning 22 class includes people who are residents of Massachusetts, and have either an intellectual disability or autism, Prader-Willi Syndrome, or Smith-Magenis Syndrome without an intellectual disability. Those without an intellectual disability need to have “substantial functional impairment” in three of the following “major life activities”: self-care, expressive communication, receptive communication, learning, mobility, capacity for self‐direction, and economic self‐sufficiency.

Those who are prioritized to receive funding for full-time residential are people who have no family involvement, or whose families are unable to keep them healthy and safe in the family home. Who falls into this latter group? It might be the family is unable to provide supports because of the family’s own health issues, for example. Or it might be because the person with a disability has extremely challenging behaviors, such as aggression, self-injurious behavior, or pica (eating things that aren’t food). Even if your son or daughter is non-verbal, incontinent, and uses a wheelchair, he or she may not qualify if the family is able to meet his or her daily needs with less than 24 hour support.

What can you do to help prepare for your child’s future housing needs if he or she is unlikely to meet the health and safety criteria? Or if he or she isn’t likely to be eligible for services through DDS at all? Or maybe you think your child will be eligible for full time residential supports, but you think something a little “out of the box” might be a better fit than a standard group home. No matter what your situation, certain things hold true:

  • Building your child’s daily living skills (things like bathing, dressing, cooking, taking medication, riding public transit, handling money) leads to better outcomes – don’t be afraid to ask the school to work on these things, too.
  • You need to save money (if you want to own housing, you’ll need a down payment; if you want to rent, you’ll need a security deposit and last month’s rent – not to mention furniture, etc.).
  • You need to learn about housing subsidies, how to apply for them, and when.
  • You need to learn about supportive services, how to apply for them and when.
  • You need to learn the rules about where you are allowed to use public funding, and which funds can’t be combined.
  • If you want to own housing, you need to learn about what kind of financing is available.

We’ll talk about all of these in future posts.

(Nothing written on this website is intended or should be construed as legal, financial, or other professional advice. For a complete legal disclaimer, please click here.)