Disabled “Priced Out” of Basic Housing

written by Lisa Stand
May 29, 2013

“Can you live on disability benefits? Not if you want to live in basic housing.” We tweeted this message recently after reading “Priced Out in 2012: The Housing Crisis for People with Disabilities,” a report that warns that the widening gap between disability benefits and housing costs are putting low-income people with disabilities at-risk of becoming homeless or institutionalized.

Let’s take a look at some of the facts presented in the report:

  • About 4.8 million disabled people with little or no earning capacity receive monthly income through a federal program called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). On average, a single person receiving this benefit has an annual income of $8,700.
  • Very few people receiving SSI have a reasonable rent burden (no more than 30 percent of income, according to federal guidelines). The average rent for a one-bedroom unit is $758, or 104 percent of average monthly SSI benefits. Even renting a studio or efficiency unit costs 90 percent of monthly SSI.

These are national averages, and housing costs vary geographically. In 17 states and the District of Columbia, one-bedroom rents are higher than monthly SSI benefits. How can people who live on disability benefits afford a place to live if they must spend every bit of their income on rent?

This reality affects not only the millions of people on SSI, but has ramifications for the 2 million more people with disabilities in institutions or living with aging parents. These people face dim prospects for living on their own without help specifically to pay for housing.

In short, people depending on SSI cannot live in the community without a housing subsidy. However, as the report points out, subsidized housing options have not kept pace with the needs of millions of poor and low-income people with disabilities, and in fact have fallen behind in some areas. Solutions to the problem of chronic homelessness also depend on the availability of subsidized housing.

The report concludes with policy recommendations that are already very familiar to homeless advocates: Increased federal commitments for a range of programs and strategies that help vulnerable people meet their housing needs. These include:

  • Funding supportive housing innovations;
  • Targeting a portion of available Section 8 vouchers to vulnerable people;
  • Implementing strategies in the federal strategic plan to end homelessness; and
  • Endowing the National Housing Trust Fund to assist households with extremely low incomes.

People working to end homelessness have a place in coalitions to expand housing for people with disabilities. Consider these words from Priced Out: “Unlike the plight of chronically homeless people – whose dire circumstances are visible on the streets of our cities – people with disabilities ‘housed’ in institutional settings virtually disappear from the public eye.”