Schizophrenia and Housing: Part One

  • Good housing:


    It can make the difference in the quality of your life and the stability of your recovery.


    Thus: I'm going to devote a three-part SharePost series to this topic.


    My own history is checkered:


    I lived at home for one year and then in a halfway house for a year.  The tiny bedroom held only a twin bed, dresser and a metal shelving unit I installed to hold books and record albums and my stereo.


    Then, I lived in supportive living for thirteen months.  One year later I moved into a studio near the beach.  For one year, I lived in my favorite apartment: a one-bedroom on Bailey Avenue.

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    Recently, I lived for 10 years in a rent-stabilized apartment where the rent increases were set by the Rent Guidelines Board.  Now, I live in a better apartment.


    To find a good apartment takes patience and teamwork.


    To discover supportive housing options, log on to the 211 website and use it as a resource locator to find the telephone number of the local agency in your city or town that can refer you to options.


    Alternatively, you can network with members of your local NAMI affiliate who might know of good housing available.  Your therapist or psychiatrist could also be a resource for locating an apartment.  If you are a member of a Clubhouse, it might offer housing as well.


    You can also investigate whether your city or town has a Community Land Trust.  This is a private, non-profit corporation that provides secure, affordable access to land and housing for community residents.


    To find free market apartments with rent that is not determined by your income:


    Look in your local newspaper's classified ads, contact a real estate office or use CraigsList


    I prefer to use a real estate office even though you will have to pay them a fee, typically one month's rent in addition to the first month's rent and security deposit.  You'll need to budget in for these three payments up front all at once.


    Using a real estate agent you know you will be dealing with a professional.  Be sure if you don't use an agent to actually view the apartment.  Scams exist where con artists claim an apartment is for rent and ask for your money without showing you the apartment because it's non-existent.


    Be wary of subletting an apartment from a renter who hasn't cleared it with the landlord.


    You need to be able to take legal possession of the apartment free and clear with a real lease and a rent you can afford.  Tell the real estate agent what your rent requirement is and stand firm to this figure. 


    Your rent will be due on the first of the month without exception so you need to make sure to budget your money well enough to pay the rent first of all.  You can be evicted and become homeless when you don't pay your rent.


    Supportive housing can be cheaper because often only a third of your income or some other percentage will go towards the rent.  So if you collect a government disability check your rent will be based on the amount of your monthly check.


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    Do not tell the real estate agent that you collect a government disability check as your sole source of income.  People have done this and they were told that no apartments were available to rent.  Wait until you're ready to sign the lease to provide income documentation.  There's no reason to mention you collect this type of check unless it's absolutely necessary.


    One way CraigsList is helpful: 


    You can use it as a research tool to uncover the types of rents in various neighborhoods.


    Be wary of a real estate agent that engages in steering: only sending you to certain neighborhoods or subpar communities when you have a budget that will enable you to live in a good neighborhood.  Notice if the housing progressively deteriorates as she guides you along.


    The rule of thumb is that no more than 28 percent of your total monthly income should go towards housing costs.  Aim for it to be lower than that if your money is tight.


    Your utility bills like gas, telephone and electric can often be paid via electronic fund transfers (EFT) from your checking account or online from your bank.  It saves the hassle of writing out a check and having to stamp the envelope and mail it.  You don't have to think about paying your utility bills because it automatically happens.


    Remember to debit the amounts of these bills from your checkbook register.  If you have a regular job and collect two paychecks each month: divide each bill in half and debit half of the bill from each paycheck to make it easier to budget your money.


    In New York City, people living in rent-stabilized apartments who collect government disability checks are eligible for DRIE, the Disability Rent Increase Exemption so that the rent doesn't outpace their income.  Your city or town might have a similar policy.


    I will go into detail in the next housing SharePost about how to conduct an apartment search and determine whether you want to sign a lease or keep on looking, as well as what to do on the big move-in day.


    The last SharePost in this series will talk about the option of owning the property you live in.

Published On: August 26, 2012