Skip to content

Housing Toolkit:


The basics


The more you know about housing policies and practices for people with disabilities, the better advocate you can be. Here, get an overview of critical policies.

Housing First is an approach to homelessness that prioritizes providing permanent housing. By ending the cycle of homelessness, Housing First serves as a platform for people to pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. Housing First is guided by the beliefs that:

  • Basic necessities such as food and housing must be met before people can attend to other needs, such as getting a job, budgeting wisely or addressing substance use issues
  • Personal choice is critical in housing selection and participation in supportive services
  • Exercising choice is likely to result in successful long-term housing and improvements in quality of life

By viewing housing as the foundation for life improvement, Housing First enables access to permanent housing without prerequisites or conditions beyond those of a typical renter. Services to support housing stability and individual well-being are offered but not required.

Unlike other approaches to homelessness, Housing First doesn't require people experiencing homelessness to address all of their problems (including behavioral health issues) or to complete a series of service programs before they can access housing. Similarly, Housing First doesn't mandate participation in services either before obtaining housing or in order to keep housing.

Independent Living First laws are based on the premise that adults with disabilities can — and want — to live independently. In accordance with the informed choice standard, adults who receive waivers must be offered the opportunity to live as independently as possible with the appropriate supports before being offered corporate foster care or customized living services.

The informed choice standard is a federal standard that ensures people with disabilities have choice and control in decision making.

Informed choice is decision making based on accurate and complete information. Informed choice happens through ongoing person-centered conversations and activities. A person making an informed choice understands the options as well as the risks and benefits of any given decision. With informed choice, community resources and supports are valued and explored.

Informed choice is especially important when people are choosing less integrated options or segregated settings. Because people with disabilities have historically been institutionalized and told that they're not capable of successful community living, they may be reluctant to choose integrated housing options. As part of enforcing the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court's Olmstead decision, the U.S. Department of Justice requires that public entities take steps to ensure that people with disabilities have an opportunity to make an informed choice.

As support professionals, we must provide information about the benefits of integrated settings, support experiences in integrated settings, and work to identify and address any concerns people might have about integrated settings.

Person-centered practices are ways to ensure a person has choice and control in planning and decision making.

With a person-centered approach, support and service planning isn't driven by professional opinion or limited service options. Instead, planning looks at services and supports in the context of what it would take for a person to have the life they want. Working together, the person and their team identify the supports and services that will help the person live, learn, work and participate in the community on their own terms.

In the context of housing, person-centered practices call on support professionals to not only help someone get an open unit but to help them find housing that is meaningful for them and incorporates the conditions they need to be successful in the world.

The home and community-based services (HCBS) final rule is a federal rule that defines community and integrated housing.

The rule was issued in 2014 to ensure that people receiving long-term services and supports through home and community-based services programs under the 1915(c), 1915(i) and 1915(k) Medicaid authorities have full access to the benefits of community living and the opportunity to receive services in the most integrated setting.

The HCBS final rule ensures that people with disabilities:

  • Know their rights and options, and have enough information to make informed choices
  • Control how, when and where they receive services
  • Participate in the community in personally meaningful ways
  • Choose where they live and who they live with
  • Decide if they work and what type of work they do
  • Choose how to spend their time and money

In February 2019, Minnesota received federal approval for a statewide transition plan. This plan adds new services, simplifies existing services, revises licensing standards, provides support for service providers to transition to new requirements and more. The deadline for compliance with the final rule and completion of the transition plan is March 2022. Get details on the HCBS settings transition plan or watch a short video on community, independence and more (04:49), which features people who receive HCBS waivers explaining the benefits of the HCBS settings rule.

Public programs that help pay for housing include vouchers, housing units and income supplements that help people pay rent.

Because housing isn't an entitlement, a patchwork of federal, state, county and local housing programs are available to help people pay rent. Check out these ways to pay for rent or housing (PDF).  Some counties and local communities may have additional programs.

Various federal and state policies protect people with disabilities from discrimination and also support access to housing. For example:

  • The Fair Housing Act requires owners of housing facilities to make reasonable exceptions to policies and operations to allow people with disabilities equal housing opportunities. This act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations to rules, policies, practices or services when the accommodations may be needed to provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and public and common use areas.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires any federally assisted program or activity to provide reasonable accommodations.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all sites open to the general public.
  • The Minnesota Human Rights Act protects people with disabilities from discrimination in housing.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) helps youth with disabilities successfully transition from school into adulthood. IDEA supports education needs as well as helping youth with disabilities plan for the future.

In the yearly Individualized Education Program, or IEP, youth and the people who support them — including family, special education teachers and others — explore what the future will look like. This future planning includes discussing a youth's goals, wants and needs, and then developing a plan. The plan includes housing, which may include transitioning from a family home into an independent setting or onto a college campus for further education.

Next: Roles and responsibilities »