Rick BissonBecoming a homeowner brings with it a sense of pride and accomplishment. An important first step on this journey is to establish a criteria for the ideal home. This is especially true for those with physical or emotional disabilities.

According to the American Association of People with Disabilities, there are over 40 million individuals in the U.S. living with a mental or physical disability. Yet only a small percentage of them enjoy the benefits of home ownership. To aid those with such disabilities, the federal government has established laws and administrations for the sole purpose of protecting the rights of a disabled home buyer. In addition, there are private and government-based resources available to disabled home buyers that make the most of opportunities available when purchasing a home.

For the purposes of enforcing nondiscrimination laws, the government defines a disability as “a physical or mental condition that impacts a person’s ability to function in one or more major life activities,” such as walking, driving or even breathing.

Before engaging in the process of locating and buying a home, clarify the needs associated with the disability. Some foundational needs may be close proximity to a specific network of health-care providers, public transportation, and easy access to local pharmacies.

Once a geographical area with the necessary services has been identified, it’s time to determine the requirements for the physical layout of the house. Be mindful of hallway and doorway widths. Bathroom and kitchen accessibility and adaptability are important considerations. If the home isn’t already equipped to meet the specific needs of a disability, consider whether it could be and at what cost. Keep in mind, too, the potential future requirements of the house in upcoming years.

Having established the home’s geographic and physical requirements, the next step is to establish a budget. If financing the purchase is necessary, start the process by contacting a trusted, local lender. Based on the income level and sources of money available, they will develop a recommended loan amount.

Some people with disabilities are in a low-income bracket and don’t qualify for standard mortgage loans. Fortunately, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 Homeownership Voucher Program was established specifically to assist low-income individuals and families in buying a house by subsidizing their monthly mortgage payments.

As a disabled individual, a buyer may be eligible for other public and private housing grants and loans, including financial aid for home modifications. One example is the American Association of People with Disabilities. They can offer between $1,500 and $25,000 with extended payback terms to be used for building upgrades.

Disabled veterans can receive thousands of dollars in grants under the Specially Adapted Housing and Special Housing Adaptation grants.

Other valuable information on the rules and organizations that are designed to ensure rights for a home buyer are clearly defined and protected under federal law. Such information is available from the Fair Housing Act. That website offers information on how applicants with physical or emotional disabilities have the same rights to the home-buying process and the purchase of a residence as anyone else.

The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity was established to enforce the rights of any home buyer, including those who are physically or mentally disabled. They provide financial assistance to state and local agencies that have a proven record of enforcing fair housing practices to further protect home buyers from discrimination.

For those not familiar with the ins-and-outs of applying and qualifying for loans, or if real estate terminology is a foreign language, sifting through the buying process can be a challenging experience.

Fortunately, help is available. HUD has approved housing counselors in every state certified to help disabled individuals buy a home. This is particularly helpful if you have specific questions related to your personal needs. HUD counselors can also point you toward relevant financial assistance programs. These services are either free or cost a small fee.

If you, or someone you know is disabled and looking to buy a home, consider the available resources listed above and be sure to contact a trusted, expert Realtor.

This column is produced by Rick Bisson and his family, who own Bisson Real Estate with Keller Williams Realty of Midcoast and Sugarloaf.