Access: The TAC Blog
FROM THE TIME OF ITS FOUNDING, the United States has faced the challenge of maintaining strong national laws that protect the American ideal of justice, while guarding against federal overreach that disempowers states and communities. But if we have learned anything in the past few years, it is that discrimination is still pervasive in our country and that our government has a vital role to play in eliminating it.
Progress toward Civil Rights
The Fair Housing Act, part of the larger Civil Rights Act of 1968 signed into law after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was propelled by a historic movement against race discrimination in housing and every other area of civic life. Over time, the list of “protected classes” under the law has grown, including with the addition of people with disabilities in 1988. Yet across the United States, discriminatory housing practices have persisted in spite of this law, perpetuating both segregation and poverty. It was in recognition of this fact that the Implementation of the Fair Housing Act's Discriminatory Effects Standard (2013) and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (2015) were introduced by the federal government to promote better progress toward the stated goals of the Fair Housing Act. By contrast, this month's “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice Rule,” published by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the September 8, 2020 Federal Register, and Implementation of the Fair Housing Act's Disparate Impact Standard Rule (9/24/20), together represent a departure from the premise that government has a proactive role in eliminating discrimination.
Fair housing is a platform for providing access to opportunity. The neighborhood in which a family lives has a profound impact on that family's ability to take advantage of amenities, resources, and opportunities. People living in racially segregated communities of concentrated poverty have historically had limited access to education and employment, and to the wealth accumulation of suburban homeownership. There are over 4,000 neighborhoods of concentrated poverty in the U.S. today, and 14 million people live in them. Census data shows that many children whose parents live in low-income neighborhoods have poorer-than-average outcomes as adults. Disparate access to areas of opportunity creates disparate life outcomes, not only for families but for whole communities.
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing represented our national commitment to the creation of affordable housing in neighborhoods with high-performing schools, clean air, reliable transportation, and good jobs — a commitment that is vital in any effort to expand opportunity for poor people, people of color, or people with disabilities. The AFFH rule was a means of ensuring that all people could be free from illegal discrimination in their efforts to find and keep housing, and that neighborhoods were connected to the resources and opportunities that would allow residents to flourish.
Fair Housing and People with Disabilities
TAC’s Priced Out analysis documents an affordable housing crisis for millions of people with disabilities in our nation. In fact, we did not find a single U.S. housing market in which a person living solely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can afford a safe, decent unit without rental assistance. This shortage creates a significant and persistent barrier to integrated community living, putting many people with disabilities at risk of unnecessary institutionalization or homelessness.
HUD data indicates that housing discrimination makes it even more difficult for people with disabilities to live in the community. More than 50 percent of housing discrimination complaints are based on disability. It remains crucial to protect the rights guaranteed by the Fair Housing Act, and to work toward inclusive housing in the community for people with disabilities. Given the ongoing affordable housing crisis, the ever-present risk of unnecessary institutionalization, and the prevalence of housing discrimination against people with disabilities, there is no question that they, along with other protected classes, will be harmed by HUD’s retreat from AFFH.
Making the Connection
This policy shift away from the principles of AFFH is particularly challenging now, as people with disabilities in congregate settings and nursing facilities, and people of color in high poverty communities, continue to be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus — and as people march daily against inequality, structural racism, and segregation. A true commitment to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing could help to address all of these issues, strengthening our progress as a nation toward the vision of the Civil Rights Act.
A SAFE, AFFORDABLE HOME is physically and emotionally the healthiest place for any individual or family — not only during this crisis, but any time. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) targeted voucher programs can help people with disabilities (including those who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, or living in nursing facilities or other institutions) move into an affordable apartment in the community. TAC’s comprehensive database of Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) targeted to people with disabilities has been updated this month to reflect new awards from HUD.
Recent events make it clearer than ever that housing equals health. TAC hopes this database of HUD resources will help to improve the health and housing situation for you or those you serve.
How can the database be useful during this crisis?
This is a difficult time for many local public housing agencies (PHAs); administering voucher programs remotely is challenging. However, HUD has recently issued COVID-19 statutory waivers that strongly encourage PHAs to conduct critical operations that can be done remotely, and that help families use vouchers to lease-up safe, affordable housing.
The database provides information about programs targeted to specific populations:
- Mainstream vouchers are Housing Choice Vouchers targeted to non-elderly persons with disabilities. HUD made awards of these vouchers in 2018 and 2019, and is expected to make additional awards this year. In recent funding rounds, PHAs were strongly encouraged to target these vouchers to non-elderly people with disabilities who were homeless, living institutions, or at risk of either of these situations.
- Nonelderly Disabled (NED) Vouchers assist non-elderly individuals and families with disabilities to access affordable housing on the private market. NED Category 2 vouchers are specifically targeted to non-elderly persons with disabilities who reside in nursing homes or other health care institutions to transition into the community.
- The HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program combines rental assistance for homeless Veterans with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA’s HUD-VASH staff prioritize and select Veteran households for a HUD-VASH voucher and refer the Veteran to the local PHA. (Note that to be eligible for VASH, Veterans must be homeless but do not have to have a disability.)
- The Family Unification Program (FUP) provides rental assistance for two populations: (1) Families for whom the lack of adequate housing is a primary factor in the imminent placement of the family’s child or children in out-of-home care, or the delay in the discharge of the child or children to the family from out-of-home care. (2) Youth ages 18 to 24 who have left or will be leaving foster care.
Aren’t all these vouchers already in use?
There is a broad range of utilization across these programs. HUD’s data for the end of December 2019 indicates that some PHAs had leased 100 percent of their units while others had leased none of their units. That means that thousands of vouchers across these different targeted programs remained available at the end of 2019. While HUD reports increasing utilization of Mainstream vouchers, each PHA will differ — so the possibility is worth exploring.
How can I find out whether these vouchers are available in my community?
To find out which agencies administer these vouchers in your community, select your state in the online TAC Database, and look for your specific area. If you learn that your community does have a special voucher program, use the data on page six of the HUD HCV Data Dashboard to check your PHA’s recent voucher utilization rate.
What if all the vouchers in my community are already in use?
Public housing agencies are required to maintain a single waiting list for the HCV program. Even if the waiting list is generally closed, it may be open for a specific voucher type. Contact your PHA to ask how to apply for the special voucher program. For HUD-VASH, contact the HUD-VASH staff at your local VA facility to find out how a Veteran would apply.
Significant Affordable Housing Opportunities for People with Disabilities in the FY 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill
THE OMNIBUS BUDGET BILL for Fiscal Year 2018, passed by Congress and enacted by the president last week, includes a ten percent ($4.6 billion), one-year increase to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget overall and gives especially strong support to housing programs serving people with disabilities.
Affordable Housing for People with Disabilities — Highlights
$400 million (est.) will go to new Section 811 mainstream vouchers for non-elderly people with disabilities. TAC estimates these funds will provide nearly 50,000 new vouchers for people with disabilities!
$82.6 million for new Section 811 Project Rental Assistance (PRA) capital advances and Project Rental Assistance. This increase may provide an opportunity for states that have not yet received PRA funds to benefit from this program!
Other Good News
$130 million increase for Homeless Assistance grants. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that this increase will be enough to move 20,000 to 25,000 more people from homelessness to permanent housing.
$40 million for new supportive housing for homeless veterans with disabilities, through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program.
$20 million for new Family Unification Program vouchers that target two populations: (1) families unifying with children who were placed or are at imminent risk of placement out of the home due to lack of adequate housing for family, and (2) youth (18 to 24 years old) who are aging out of the foster care system.
A 12.5% increase in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit allocation and a 30% increase in the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), both of which will help states and localities to increase affordable housing production.
Thanks are due to all of the disability, homelessness, and affordable housing proponents across the country whose hard work and advocacy have ensured that thousands more people with disabilities will have the chance to live in safe, affordable apartments — rather than in institutions, in shelter, or on the streets. Thanks especially to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, outgoing chair of the House Appropriations Committee, who has been a steadfast supporter of housing for non-elderly people 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.
“It Makes Me Feel Like I Mean Something”: Success Stories in Community Integration
Permanent supportive housing enables many people with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in their families and communities. The Section 811 Project Rental Assistance program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) helps communities forge partnerships and leverage resources to help people move out of unnecessarily restrictive environments and into their own apartments - and to help them thrive once there. In these videos and vignettes produced by the HUD Office of Multifamily Housing with TAC's assistance, you'll see how community integration through supportive housing looks for Tanesha, Destiny, Avia, and Mr. Poole, four individuals with diverse needs and histories who live in different parts of the country. You will also hear from service providers and property managers about what makes the 811 PRA program work.
Determining the Real Need for Inpatient Psychiatric Beds
Two TAC authors have contributed working papers to a new series published by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, taking on the question: "What is the inpatient bed need if you have a best practice continuum of care?" In The Role of Permanent Supportive Housing in Determining Psychiatric Inpatient Bed Capacity, Sherry Lerch and Kevin Martone discuss the importance of permanent supportive housing (PSH) as a core intervention in a strong community-based system, and how PSH capacity can reduce the demand for psychiatric inpatient beds. In The Role State Mental Health Authorities Can Play in the Delivery of Integrated Primary and Behavioral Health Care for People with Serious Mental Illness, Including Those with Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders, Sherry Lerch lays out changes in planning, financing, and procedures that can help SMHAs improve care integration.
TAC Staff in Action
TAC Managing Director Marie Herb and Senior Associate Liz Stewart both led workshops at the HOPWA Institute in Tampa, a HUD event focused on housing's role in ending the HIV epidemic; Associates Ashley Mann-McLellan and Douglas Tetrault and consultant Naomi Sweitzer helped design and deliver a series of intensive, day-long trainings for direct services staff in the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program; Executive Director Kevin Martone has been named to the board of the National Association for Rural Mental Health, and attended its annual conference in San Diego; Mayra Pabon, our Administrative Assistant, attended the Boston Center for Independent Living's celebration lunch for Transition Internship Program participants, including TAC summer intern Hawo Osman; Senior Consultant Lisa Sloane, Associate Ellen Fitzpatrick, and Production/Design Associate Adriana DePalma put the finishing touches on a series of "HUD PRA 811 Success Stories" which went live mid-month (see above); Senior Associate Jim Yates co-presented on "Supportive Services for Veteran Families and Beyond" at the Kansas Housing Conference; and Senior Associate Gina Schaak represented TAC at a "Massachusetts Housing Day" at the State House, organized by the Citizens' Housing and Planning Association.
We're happy to announce that Jennifer Ingle has joined TAC as an Associate with TAC's human services group. Jenn brings expertise in program evaluation, stakeholder engagement, and policy related to long-term services and supports, and has many years' experience working directly with elders and people with psychiatric disabilities. We are also delighted to welcome Madison Tallant, a graduate student in social work at Boston College, as a TAC intern with our housing team this year.
APRIL MARKS THE 49th ANNIVERSARY of the passage of the Fair Housing Act. Yet people with disabilities were not covered by this transformative legislation until twenty years later. In passing the 1988 amendments, Congress at last embraced a national commitment to end the unnecessary exclusion of people with disabilities from the American mainstream.
Unfortunately, that commitment remains unfulfilled. In its 2017 report on national discrimination trends, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), a consortium of more than 220 nonprofit fair housing organizations, state and local civil rights agencies, and individuals from across the United States, reports that “As has been the trend over the past several years, housing discrimination against persons with disabilities continued to make up the majority (55.1 percent) of housing complaints investigated in 2015 across the board, with a total of 15,332 instances reported.”
A press release from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson has proclaimed this year’s fair housing theme to be Fair Housing Equals Opportunity, “highlighting equality in housing as a foundation upon which aspirations can be achieved and affirming the Fair Housing Act’s ongoing role in confronting housing discrimination.” We welcome HUD’s continued commitment to fair housing and encourage the Secretary to maintain the agency’s robust support for these critical activities:
HUD must continue to prosecute housing discrimination against people with disabilities actively — whether that discrimination takes the form of new construction that is not physically accessible or a property’s policies and procedures that exclude people with invisible disabilities such as mental illness, brain injury, or HIV/AIDS. The NFHA data also indicates how important it is that HUD continue to fund local fair housing organizations that work directly with those impacted by exclusion and discrimination.
New professionals enter the affordable housing field every year. Whether helping an architect who must sort out multiple state and federal requirements or a property manager who needs to master the subtleties of reasonable accommodation, HUD can play a supportive role, both directly and by funding community organizations that provide technical assistance.
HUD’s continued collaboration internally (e.g. HUD Fair Housing staff working with staff from Public and Indian Housing or Community Planning and Development), across federal agencies (e.g. HUD issuing joint statements with the Department of Justice), and with outside parties (e.g. Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities meeting regularly with HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing) is vital to ensuring fair housing for people with disabilities.
Fair housing enforcement, training, and collaboration can help to create equal opportunity. However, actively and affirmatively furthering fair housing (AFFH) — as the Fair Housing Act requires — is vital to success. We urge HUD to commit to continued implementation of the AFFH final rule, including training and technical assistance activities. Disability issues are not yet adequately addressed in HUD’s technical assistance model but with commitment, we know HUD will get there. Let’s make next year’s 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act a real celebration.