Access: The TAC Blog

Leading experts report from the intersection of affordable housing, health care, and human services policy.

Affordable Housing for People with Disabilities — A Worsening Crisis

Posted Tuesday, December 12, 2017
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Over the last decade, increased rental demand combined with development primarily at the high end of the market has led to record-low vacancy rates, higher rents, and increased competition for affordable and subsidized housing. This overall market trend is reflected in the ever-worsening affordability gap for extremely low-income renters with disabilities.

The tenth edition of the Priced Out: The Housing Crisis for People with Disabilities report, released today by TAC and our partners at the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force, once again demonstrates that non-elderly adults with disabilities who rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are among the groups most severely affected by the extreme shortage of affordable rental housing across our nation.

Over the last decade, increased rental demand combined with development primarily at the high end of the market has led to record-low vacancy rates, higher rents, and increased competition for affordable and subsidized housing. This overall market trend is reflected in the ever-worsening affordability gap for extremely low-income renters with disabilities. 

Supplemental Security Income is the federal income maintenance program that assists people with significant and long-term disabilities who have virtually no assets and — in most instances — no other source of income. The national average rent for a studio/efficiency unit in 2016 was $752, equal to 99% of a monthly SSI payment. In thirteen states and the District of Columbia, areas with the highest housing costs in the nation, the average studio/efficiency rent exceeded 100% of the income of an SSI recipient.

This housing affordability crisis deprives hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities of a basic human need: a place of their own to call home. Because of the disparity between SSI income and rental housing costs, non-elderly adults with significant disabilities in our nation are often forced into homelessness or segregated, restrictive, and costly institutional settings such as psychiatric hospitals, adult care homes, nursing homes, or jails.

Ideally, there would be enough job opportunities that match the skills of people with disabilities and pay a livable wage so that all could afford housing in their communities. However, as the National Low Income Housing Coalition documents in its 2017 Out of Reach report, it would require more than two full-time jobs at the federal minimum wage to pay for a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.

Federal rental assistance — meaning a subsidy that helps renters pay no more than 30% of their income for housing — is the key to solving the housing crisis that has been documented in Priced Out reports over the past 19 years. Unfortunately, because of funding limitations that have grown worse in recent years, federal rental subsidy programs currently reach only 35 of every 100 extremely low-income households; with incomes equal to only 20% of area median income, one-person households receiving SSI fall within this category. This shortfall translates into long waiting lists at Public Housing Agencies and affordable housing developments, and a critical shortage of permanent supportive housing opportunities for people with significant disabilities who have SSI-level incomes.

A unified advocacy effort by the disability community is needed to support and potentially expand permanent supportive housing programs along with other rental assistance strategies. Providing housing assistance to people with the most significant and long-term disabilities is not only the right thing to do, but is also more cost-effective than perpetuating the alternatives: costly institutional care, uncontrolled expenses to the health care system, and homelessness.


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  • Kevin Martone, L.S.W. is Executive Director of the Technical Assistance Collaborative.