Diary of a Dream III

Posted by Patricia Manko on Thu, Jun 27, 2013 @ 01:34 PM

Our Section 8 Housing Choice

describe the imageWe completed a Section 8 application* on the day James turned 18.  Although at the time we did not know what James' residential plan would be, we were not concerned for the voucher can take years to obtain.  This was a critical step towards our dream- for James to live “on his own”. 

Last August we received a notice in the mail from the housing authority informing us that James had come to the top of the list for a Section 8 voucher.  We were asked to provide documented proof of James’ income (bank statement, SSI, employment), citizenship, a doctor's note and social security identification.  After all the paperwork was found to be in order, we were given an appointment to learn how to begin the Section 8 process. 

In our case, although we were excited to get the voucher after only three and a half years, a lot shorter than the ten years we had anticipated, we were not ready.  We had purchased the property and had been working on our vision for James’ future, but half of the space that he was going to living in was essentially a shell; no walls or electricity!  We were encouraged by several people to not turn the Section 8 down since we would go to the bottom of the list.  So a Plan B had to be developed.

In Law apartmentPlan B: An In-Law apartment

We researched the possibility of creating an in-law apartment in our home.  From a technical perspective, every city or town has different definitions and rules for in-law apartments. Our town(Melrose, MA) is specific about use for family members only and has a three year time frame before needing to be renewed as an in- law.  From a Section 8 perspective, the key is to make sure that the city or town classifies the in-law as LEGAL.  Additionally, since we are relatives of James, we required an accomodation with Section 8 to be his landlord.

While our first thought had always been to have James live in his own home, the idea and reality of helping him to acquire more independence while living in a separate space with us was perfect. Meeting the definition of a rental was only step one in realizing this new plan. The second step was to get the public approvals necessary  to build the in-law and this was a time consuming process. We met with the town planning board, and the board of appeals, and navigated the permit and inspection process.  To gain approval, we were required to draw up schematics of the each floor of the house. We worked with our plumber and builder to prepare the technical building requirements and got feedback from the building inspector in terms of code requirements. 

Typically the  housing agency prefers that a Section 8 recipient use their voucher within sixty days of receiving it. This time frame did not work for our unique situation. Our local housing authority did not seem to have experience working with individuals with intellectual disabilities; they typically linked these individuals up with non-profit agencies on group vouchers.  We connected with a member of the local housing board and after explaining our goal in a housing agencies public meeting, the concept was embraced.  We wrote weekly updates on our progress to the Section 8 voucher coordinator and kept her in the loop as the the housing authority accommodated our extension. 

The photo above is James' bedroom in the in-law- click here to see more photos of his new digs! This was the beauty of working with the local housing authority : we all learned something and got the result that was best for James.

There are many applications of using a section 8 voucher-this is clearly not a one size fits all situation.

Here are some options:

1.       The family can purchase and own a building and rent to their child who has a section 8 voucher. (an exception is required where the owner is a family member, but exceptions are very common if the individual has a disability.)

2.       A Special Needs Trust can own a building and rent to a child who has a section 8 voucher.

3.       A family may purchase a condo in a building and use the section 8 voucher to collect rent.

4.       You may apply for a 2 Bedroom voucher if you can show that 24/7 supports are needed.


An investment by parents in a residence in which their child will live is a factor in their own personal tax, retirement and estate planning. The key is to determine the best situation for you and your family. If you have questions regarding your own individual situation, please give us a call.

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*A MUST DO: Apply for The Section 8 Housing CHOICE Voucher

An important step every family should take in planning for the future is to apply for a Section 8 housing choice voucher when their child turns 18. While the application is easy to complete, the actual time frame to get a section 8 voucher can be years.

A section 8 voucher allows people to choose their own housing anywhere they want to live. If the Section 8 recipient moves, the Section 8 rental assistance goes with them.  The individual vouchers are not limited to particular housing developments like project-based vouchers. Families with Section 8 tenant-based vouchers can choose any apartment they want, as long as the rent is reasonable and the unit passes a physical inspection.  The application process is simple,  the application form is generally one page. A great resource for information about the Section 8 application process is http://www.massresources.org/section8.html .

This commentary is provided as general information and not intended to provide specific advice.

Tags: Housing, transition planning, Special Needs Financial Planning, Special Needs Trusts

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