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«The Disability Housing Market: Opportunity for Community Development Finance as the Americans with Disabilities Act Turns 20 Charles D. Hammerman The ...»

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Community Development INVESTMENT REVIEW


The Disability Housing Market:

Opportunity for Community Development Finance as the

Americans with Disabilities Act Turns 20

Charles D. Hammerman

The Disability Opportunity Fund

Samantha Bennett

Center for Wealth Preservation


home is more than just an address, more than just a place to hang your hat. For

many of us, the first time we feel independent is when we sign our first lease, buy

our first set of dishes, and pay our first bills. For many, the most strenuous part in finding a place to live is meeting the right real estate agents, or finding a home with enough bathrooms, or one with a decent-size kitchen and adequate sunlight.

For low-income persons with disabilities, their concerns consist not only of counter space, or hardwood floors, but also safety, affordability, and accessibility. For far too long, persons with disabilities have been deprived of the opportunity of renting or possibly even owning their own home. Many have been excluded from obtaining housing vouchers, and some simply have no access to the limited housing options that are currently available. For many, it has been a dream without much likelihood of coming true.

For the last 40 years, many articles, progress reports, and statistics have addressed this critical issue. Yet there is no current coherent policy to address the housing needs for persons with disabilities. Congress has struggled since the passage of the Vocational Reha- bilitation Act in 1973 to develop a working plan through which persons with disabilities who want to live independently may be able to do so. Several other laws and regulations have been enacted since then in the hope of protecting the disabled and helping them find safe, affordable, accessible housing.

Although there is no coherent approach to providing housing, the demand for it is strong. There are more than 41 million noninstitutionalized Americans living with some form of disability. More than 23 million are between the ages of 18 and 65.1 It is the inadequate supply that has ultimately hindered those with disabilities from attaining housing.

How Is the “Disability Market” Measured?

Statistical information concerning disabilities is collected through several different venues. The American Community Survey (ACS), Cornell University’s “Disability Status 1 Statistics taken from Cornell University, 2007 Disability Status Report.


Community Development INVESTMENT REVIEW 89 Report,” and the University of Colorado’s Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities are just a few of the sources that provide thorough and comprehensive data and statistics.

The ACS, working with the Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce, hopes to sample close to three million homes a year. Currently the ACS strives to “provide data users with timely information each year on demographic, housing, social and economic statistics that can be compared across states, communities, and population groups.”2 Working from information and data collected from the ACS, the Cornell “Disability Status Report” tends to classify individual disabilities through six separate categories: sensory, physical, mental, go-outside-home, self-care, and employment. The ACS defines disabilities in a more general way as a “long-lasting physical, mental, or emotional condition.” The ACS is intended eventually to replace the decennial Census, through which reports and statistics are reported and documented only every ten years.

Whereas the ACS primarily focuses on statistics for various disabilities, the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities centers on “mental retardation and developmental disabilities, acquired brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and severe and persistent mental illness.”3 The Coleman Institute’s main intent is not the distribution of disability statistics, although it does willingly share the useful information it has acquired, but rather, since its establishment in 1991, has created a full avenue for sharing disability information and offering support. Most important, the Coleman Institute’s mission is “to catalyze and integrate advances in science, engineering, and technology to promote the quality of life and independent living... of over 20 million American citizens—seven percent of the U.S. population” living with cognitive disabilities.

How Big is the Market?

By analyzing the ACS, the Coleman Institute, and Cornell University’s Disability Status Report as three primary sources for statistical research and data on persons with disabilities, we have found that the disabled housing market not only is expanding but also that it remains underserved. The ACS, Cornell, and Coleman Institute data are conclusive in stating that

numbers and types of disabilities are growing exponentially. Consider the following:

Wounded Veterans for Iraq and Afghanistan According to a published report from the John F. Kennedy School of Public Policy at Harvard, of the 1.4 million men and women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly one-half will need medical attention from the Veterans Administration when they return from the wars. In addition, as a result of 2 M. J. Bjelland, W. A. Erickson, and C. G. Lee, “Disability Statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS),” November 8, 2008. Cornell University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Demographics and Statistics (StatsRRTC). www.disabilitystatistics.org.

3 David Braddock, Ph.D., Executive Director, UC Associate Vice President, Boulder 2005–2008, The Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities. https://www.cu.edu/ColemanInstitute/background_text.html.


Community Development INVESTMENT REVIEW 90 medical advances, the ratio of wounded soldier to fatality in these theaters is four to eight times higher than in any previous conflict.4 Autism According to the website for Autism Speaks: “A new study published October 5, 2009, in the American Academy of Pediatrics' journal Pediatrics found a parent-reported autism prevalence rate of one in every 91 American children, including one in 58 boys. The study used data gathered as part of the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH), a national survey directed and funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” Baby Boomers In the next 10 years, the major wave of baby boomers will be entering their seventies.5 The estimates are that the current senior population of 34 million will double over the next 20 years. What do these statistics have to do with disabilities? In 2007 in the United States, 25 percent of individuals 65 to 74 reported one or more disabilities, and 50 percent of individuals 75 and older reported one or more disabilities.6 Excluded from these statistics and analysis are those of the disabled population that go unrecognized and unaccounted for. A substantial percentage of individuals living with disabilities are considered “hidden.” Some of these men and women, if not the majority, are living with aging parents, even though they are qualified to reside on their own or within supported living programs.

The 2005 HUD report on worst-case housing used Social Security Administration data to estimate that in 2004 there were more than one million low-income adults with disabilities living in households with worst-case needs. “Worst-case housing needs” is defined as households with incomes falling below 50 percent of median income in their geographic area who are paying more than half of their income for housing or are living in severely substandard housing. In all, more than 60 percent of unassisted very low-income households in which there is an adult member with a disability have worst-case housing needs, one of the highest proportions among low-income groups.

4 Linda Blimes, “Soldiers Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan: The Long-Term Costs of Providing Veterans Medical Care and Disability Benefits,” John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Faculty Research Working Papers Series, January 2007.

5 George Friedman, The Next 100 Years (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 2009),128.

6 Bjelland, et al.


People with Disabilities are a Low-Income Target Market Persons with disabilities have among the highest poverty rates. They are reimbursed for needed services, but the rate is substantially below what they need. In 2006, there were more than 21 million people between 18 and 65 in the United States with one or more disabilities.

The Cornell report found that in 2007, 36.9 percent of working-age (21–64) individuals with disabilities were employed, compared with the 79.7 percent without disabilities. Those who do work typically earn $6,000 less per year than workers who do not have disabilities. The income of households with a wage earner who has a disability is $26,500 less than households without a person with a disability. Moreover, researchers found that 24.7 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities lived in poverty compared to 9.0 percent of those without disabilities.7 These dramatic discrepancies are long-standing and continue to separate Americans with disabilities from their peers without disabilities.

Those individuals who do not or cannot work experience even greater economic challenges. More than half of the population in the United States between 18 and 65 and have disabilities rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for their income.

Of these 11.9 million people:

• 6.5 million people receive SSDI only. The average 2008 SSDI payment in 2008 was $12,048/year or 116 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for one person.

• Four million people receive SSI only. The average 2008 SSI payment in 2008 was $5,724/year or 55 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for one person.

• 1.5 million people receive SSDI and SSI because their SSDI payment falls below the state’s SSI payment threshold. The average SSI payment in these cases is $2,082/year, bringing the annual income of these individuals “up to” 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Note: These figures relate to the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG) and not the Area Median Household Income statistic, which is much higher than the FPG.

In addition to receiving transfer payments that are far below Median Household Incomes in every state, individuals with disabilities must restrict their assets in order to qualify for these benefits. They cannot accumulate any more than $2,000 in assets other than their house, car, and a life insurance policy (capped at $1,500). Thus government programs can actually keep persons with disabilities in poverty. This policy is based on the old notion that individuals with disabilities are unable to work and therefore must rely on others (such as family members) for support.

There is a “chicken and egg” challenge when it comes to poverty and persons with disabilities: those living in poverty are more likely to have a disability and those with disabilities are

–  –  –

more likely to live in poverty. Regardless of which came first, individuals with disabilities must have access to economic tools to rise out of poverty, achieve homeownership, and accumulate assets to improve their standard of living.

Can the System Work More Efficiently?

The challenge is to determine a method that will efficiently deliver financial and other resources. Existing housing programs at the federal, state, and local levels do not necessarily work in concert, and they should. More efficient housing programs can also be combined with existing “disability” housing rental subsidies to increase the supply of available housing for persons with disabilities. A simple and current example is the federal government’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). According to the HUD website, NSP funds are aimed at “the purchase and redevelopment of foreclosed and abandoned homes and residential properties.” The problem is that HUD never thought to incorporate persons with disabilities into the program. At present, a full year after the NSP funds were delivered, we have found that some local government housing agencies are still sitting on unused NSP funds. These same agencies are also holding on to the NHTD Medicaid Waiver rent subsidy, which allows individuals with disabilities to live in the community through a rental voucher system. Rather than let the NSP dollars go to waste, we have suggested that the local housing authorities convert the foreclosed and abandoned homes into rental units for individuals with disabilities who can use the Medicaid Waiver to pay the rent.

In 1990, Congress passed two important laws for low-income renters with disabilities:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act. According to the ADA: “Physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society,” and further, “the continuing existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and prejudice denies persons with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous, and costs the United States billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses resulting from dependency and nonproductivity.”8 The CranstonGonzalez National Affordable Housing Act contained Section 811 (the Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program), which provided “funding exclusively to non-profit developers building and operating housing for low-income households with disabilities.”9 Both laws were thought to make a tremendous difference in the lives of the disabled and their families. The ADA has made great strides to help the disabled community by legally prohibiting discrimination in relation to work and housing opportunities, but Section 811 has seemingly fallen short of Congress’ original vision. The lack of new funding, the cost of renewing 8 The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. February 23, 2009. http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/ada.


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