Angel and Norma Cepeda of El Paso, Texas couldn't believe they actually owned their own home until the realtor handed them their keys. "We were all crying," said Angel Cepeda. "We aren't going to have to move anymore. We don't have to live like nomads." The Cepedas knew what it meant to move. In the past 18 years, they had relocated at least eight times. Angel Cepeda, who has multiple disabilities, is a member of one of 72 families in El Paso that bought homes with the assistance of a unique home-ownership program offered in Texas, the Home of Your Own program, or HOYO.
The HOYO Program
Katherine Hernandez, the Housing Services Coordinator for the El Paso HOYO program, said, "The program has been operating in El Paso since 1996." She added, "We're making it possible for people with disabilities to become home owners, even if they don't have steady jobs, or if they live on limited incomes."
Hernandez said that in addition to being employed, one of the most vital needs for Americans with disabilities is to own their own homes. Although this is not an easy feat, there are folks in Texas who are working to make home ownership for disabled people a reality.
One new home owner said he is really enjoying owning his home. "I am behind my own door, under my own roof, doing my own thing. I can be loud or quiet. I can be with people or by myself. I can work or play, or do absolutely nothing. I can be neat or I can be messy. I get to decide. I am home!"
Disincentives to Buy
Although owning a home is difficult for many people, it may be even harder for those who have disabilities. Studies show that people with disabilities own homes in far fewer numbers than people without disabilities. Why the disparity? According to the National Home of Your Own Alliance, people with disabilities face challenges that other people don't. These include financial, attitudinal and physical barriers that are difficult to overcome. The lack of money is, of course, the most difficult problem.
For instance, many people with disabilities don't earn huge salaries. Many live on fixed incomes. Some people with disabilities have high medical and equipment expenses while others are not able to save enough money for a down payment or closing costs.
Attitudinal barriers are rooted in stereotypes about people with disabilities such as that they are helpless, needy and dependent. These attitudes are disincentives for people with disabilities to explore the real estate world. Unfortunately, stereotypes, while untrue and unfair, do persist. This may make it less likely that a mortgage company will decide to take a chance on a disabled person.
Another problem for disabled Texans is that few homes are accessible. Remodeling a home to make it accessible for a disabled person is expensive.
Assistance in Texas
Thanks to HOYO, more people with disabilities are able to break through these barriers to homeownership. Together with state and federal agencies, HOYO offers innovative programs to assist with down payments, mortgages and modifications to make the homes accessible. These programs include:
Start Up - provides down payment assistance and funds to modify homes that are not accessible to eligible HOYO participants. Participation is based on program guidelines. Funds for this program are made possible through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, and through United Cerebral Palsy of Texas. In El Paso, further assistance may be available through the city's First Time Homebuyer Program.
HomeChoice - Directed by Fannie Mae's home mortgage loan program, a disabled person may access low down payments and other features that will help those who have financial problems.
Home Modification Funds - HOYO will help eligible participants explore funding opportunities to help pay for modifications and to remove barriers to make the home more accessible.
HOYO is helping simplify the homeownership process for people with disabilities. All individuals need to qualify is to have a diagnosed disability; meet income guidelines; qualify for mortgage financing and be able to make some contribution toward the down payment and upfront fees from their own money. They also need to complete the HOYO orientation and homebuyer education classes.
Gloria at Home, Her Home
Like the Cepedas, Gloria Muñoz always wanted to own a home. She had faith that someday her dream would come true. Although the only income she had was disability assistance from the government, she never lost faith. Gloria started collecting decorations and knickknacks - the things that turn a house into a home. She didn't display them in the tiny rented apartment she shared with her daughter, Karina. Instead she waited until she could display them in her own home.
"Thanks to HOYO, I now have all my decorations hanging on the walls of our very own home," Munoz said. "It took ten years to collect my artifacts, but it was all worth it. Thanks to God and HOYO, my dream [of home ownership] has come true. My daughter and I couldn't be happier." Their home is now so big that she and Karina sometimes seem to lose each other. "But, we always find each other again. We're both so happy to finally call this house our home."