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Volume 11, Issue 4, 2011   Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Advocating for the Disabled: Interview with Jean Langendorf, Easter Seals of Central Texas

Jean LangendorfJean Langendorf, vice president of community and housing services for Easter Seals of Central Texas in Austin, has over 25 years of experience working to improve the lives of people with physical and mental impairments. She is widely respected as one of the state’s leading advocates for the disabled. She was a featured panelist at “Finding Housing Opportunities for People with Disabilities,” the September 2011 conference in Austin that was sponsored by the Dallas Fed and the Disability Opportunity Fund. In this interview, Langendorf speaks about her perceptions of serving the housing needs of people with disabilities.

Q: Tell us about Easter Seals of Central Texas.

A: Easters Seals of Central Texas has a variety of programs serving those with disabilities. We have a strong presence in the community and are celebrating our 75th anniversary in 2012. My particular focus has been on addressing the unique housing needs of this community. Our goal is to create programs and advocate with our consumers to help them find housing, which we hope is accessible and integrated into the community.

Q: What type of demand do you see for housing for people with disabilities?

A: For us, the information is anecdotal and based on our own program observations. We have 40 people on our wait list for 24 rental condo units and 80 on the wait list for our tenant-based rental assistance program. With calls from people seeking assistance on a daily basis, we believe demand is very strong.

Q: What are the housing programs administered at Easter Seals of Central Texas for people with disabilities?

A: We have several programs, which include the Home Of Your Own (HOYO) program, the HUD Section 811 condo unit development program, the Critical Home Accessibility Modification Program (CHAMP), rental vouchers, and I am always involved in some type of advocacy. The HOYO program has been in existence for 15 years, and Easter Seals of Central Texas serves as its lead entity. The role of the program is to get participants loan-ready through homebuyer counseling. Access to down payment and closing cost assistance promotes homeownership. Easter Seals also develops both single- and multifamily integrated units. The CHAMP program works with current homeowners to enable a person with a disability to continue to live at home, be as independent as possible and continue to play an active role in the community. Occasionally we also serve as an administrator for housing rental vouchers that allow our consumers to find private housing that is suitable for their particular needs.

Q: What role can banks play in fostering many of these programs?

A: For the HOYO program, we can continue to add participating lenders. Our consumers will have to qualify for a mortgage product. However, it becomes a win-win for banks since the homebuyer is eligible for $20,000 in down payment assistance, which helps the bank mitigate risk. In 15 years, we have seen only two foreclosures out of 460 participants.

We can also use more representatives from financial institutions to assist us with financial education. This can help people improve their credit and make them more viable consumers for lending products that can help them finance their housing options or modify their current home. Oftentimes, after a counseling session, a client decides that a home is beyond their means or too much responsibility. We still see this as a success since their decision was based on well-thought-out conclusions.

And as always, we need banks to think of housing for people with disabilities as a marketplace. They can always help us leverage low-interest loans or grants for future development. There are many nonprofit developers that need a strong partnership with a bank.

Q: What is new with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 811 program that allows for better collaboration with other programs?

A: The reformed Section 811 program has key features that will create many more units of integrated, permanent supportive housing every year by providing stronger incentives to leverage other sources of capital for 811 units, including federal low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs), HUD HOME funds and bond financing. HUD is encouraging this integration of both people and financing. The idea is to align the housing community and the Medicaid community to be well-positioned to administer the new Section 811 funds (which will essentially be in the form of project-based rental assistance). At this point, Easter Seals of Central Texas would also consider developing properties using LIHTCs in partnership with an experienced developer.

Q: How do we increase the capacity of those undertaking housing for people with disabilities?

A: We need to continue to recruit new developers and organizations and build capacity one person at a time. It’s all about educating people about the tremendous need. There are roles for everyone, including banks large and small, community development organizations, foundations as well as government. Partnerships are crucial to the process.

e-Perspectives, Volume 11, Issue 4, 2011

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