Ensuring Housing Needs are Met for Families with Special Needs

Housing is a significant issue for families with special needs that require modified living spaces. Due to frequent relocations, those with housing accommodation requirements often deal with the same issues each time they move.

What rights do families with special needs have regarding housing?

The federal government defines a person with a disability as "any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such impairment." Generally, these impairments include, among others: hearing, mobility, and visual impairments; chronic mental illness; and mental handicap that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, talking, hearing, seeing, breathing, learning, performing manual tasks, and caring for oneself.

Regardless of whether you live on the installation or in the surrounding community, federal laws provide the following rights to persons with disabilities:

  • Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. It is unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent or sell to a person simply because of a disability. Housing providers may not impose different application or qualification criteria, rental fees or sales prices, and rental or sales terms or conditions than those required of or provided to persons who are not disabled.
  • Requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.
  • Requires housing providers to allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications. This includes structural modifications that are made to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities. Reasonable modifications are usually made at the resident's expense. However, there are resources available for helping fund building modifications.

What is "Privatized Housing" and how can it help families with special needs?

The Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) allows each branch of Service to work with commercial enterprises to rehabilitate or rebuild substandard military family housing through a variety of financial mechanisms including loans, loan guarantees, equity investments, conveyance or leasing of land, housing, or other facilities. Service members can use their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to live in either private-sector housing or privatized military housing.

Privatized housing offers improved housing accommodations for families with special needs who prefer living in military communities. As units are renovated or rebuilt, they will be brought up to modern housing standards, and a higher percentage of them will become handicapped accessible, particularly in areas of high Exceptional Family Member (EFM) concentrations. The property managers will be required to make reasonable alterations and accommodations consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at no cost to the tenant. For more information on privatization, special needs families may be referred to the MHPI website.


What should military families that have special housing requirements for members with special needs do prior to relocation?

The availability of quality military housing on-installation and affordable housing off-installation varies considerably from one location to another, making it difficult for installation housing offices to give families with special needs a blanket statement of how their housing needs will be met at a new duty station. Military families that have special housing requirements such as handicapped accessibility or climate control/air quality monitoring should be advised to make contact with the housing office or Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) coordinator at their new duty location as early as possible. Medical documentation of special housing needs will normally be required before assignment to special needs housing or modification to a housing unit is approved.

Additionally, per the Joint Federal Travel Regulations, medically necessary equipment may be shipped in the same manner as Professional Books, Papers, and Equipment (PBP&E), and the weight is not constrained. Required medical equipment must be certified by an appropriate Uniformed Services health care provider as necessary for medical treatment of the member/dependent.

Are there loans that can help me remove architectural barriers from my residence?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sponsors two home improvement loan programs.

  • Property Improvement Loans (Title I). The Title I Program insures loans to finance the light or moderate rehabilitation of properties, as well as the construction of nonresidential buildings on the property. This program may be used to insure loans for up to twenty years on either single or multi-family properties. The maximum loan amount is $25,000 for improving a single-family home or for improving or building a nonresidential structure. More information is available on the HUD Homes and Communities website.
  • Rehabilitation Loans (Section 203 (k)). Section 203(k) of the National Housing Act insures mortgages to cover the purchase or refinancing and rehabilitation of a home that is at least a year old. A portion of the loan is used to pay the seller, or with a refinance, to pay off the existing mortgage, and the remaining funds are placed in an escrow account and released as rehabilitation is completed. The cost of the rehabilitation must be at least $5,000, but the total value of the property must still fall within the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage limit for the area. More information is available on the HUD Rehabilitation Loans website.

What should I do if I feel that I have been discriminated against?

Families can be assured that military housing programs are prohibited from discrimination on the basis of disability, and are required to make reasonable accommodations for special needs. Each Service will make housing modifications to accommodate disabilities on a case-by-case basis or relocate families to suitable housing at no cost to the family.

Military families with special needs should report housing discrimination to their installation housing referral service, especially if it referred them to the housing provider. If you are in a location not served by a housing referral office, the HUD website provides information on filing discrimination complaints, and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has extensive information on fair housing laws and litigation with over a dozen information sheets on housing discrimination issues.


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