More than 18 million housed disabled people in the U.S. are eligible for federal housing assistance but are not receiving it, compounding already high barriers to affordable and accessible housing, according to new research from The Kelsey and Urban Institute. This data shows how crucial it is for Congress and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to follow through on their commitments to fund housing for people with disabilities.

People with disabilities experience poverty at a higher rate than people without disabilities—and poverty rates are even more acute for disabled people of color. The research results show that 22 percent of people with disabilities have “extremely low” incomes as defined by HUD. In 2021, the median income for households with at least one disabled member was $42,736—less than 60 percent of the median income for households without a disabled member ($75,000).

Without swift action to increase access to rental assistance and affordable, inclusive housing, more disabled people risk losing their independence, becoming unhoused or trapped in institutions. These longstanding challenges won’t be solved overnight. But there are two immediate steps the federal government can take to improve housing conditions for people with disabilities.

The first is for HUD to release all existing funds allocated to developing and subsidizing rental housing and supportive services for low-income adults with disabilities through Section 811, which is intended to create integrated communities where people with disabilities can live among non-disabled people and access support in their own homes.

HUD agrees this is important, and even touted the program during ADA’s 32nd anniversary celebration. However, Section 811 is not having the impact it should. HUD is sitting on congressionally allocated funds, estimated at $225 million. The 117th Congressional House of Representatives Report, published in July 2021, called on HUD to make existing funds available within 60 days and to award the funds within another 180 days. The funds remain unreleased.

In addition, we urge Congress to increase investment in affordable, accessible and integrated housing stock by allocating at least $400 million in new Section 811 Project-Based Rental Assistance (PRA) funding for fiscal year 2023 and to renew existing Section 811 rental assistance so tenants can remain stably housed. A regular appropriation cycle will help the PRA program become a routine part of each state’s development process, resulting in a much larger pool of housing for people with disabilities.

Without this money, accessible housing won’t be built and people with disabilities will be unstably housed or will continue to be excluded from the nation’s housing stock altogether. Historically, mainstream U.S. housing infrastructure was not built with disabled people’s needs in mind. Government-sanctioned institutionalization has been the norm for centuries. Today millions remain in segregated housing because our government has not invested in a commensurate supply of disability-forward housing.

And the problem will only get bigger as our population ages. Twelve percent of U.S. residents ages 15 and older—about 39 million people—currently live with a disability. This is both because many people age into disabilities and because more than half of households where a disabled adult lives with a relative other than a spouse is led by an adult 55 or older.

More than 7 million disabled adults across almost 6 million households live with a non-spouse adult family member such as a parent or sibling. In 2021, 52 percent of these heads of household were 55 or older compared with just 41 percent of households without a disabled member. Aging heads of household may be unable to maintain housing or provide care as they get older.

This new research illustrates the urgent need for action. People with disabilities are suffering the worst consequences of the affordable housing crisis. This situation is already a humanitarian disaster. Addressing it requires fully funding existing solutions as well as new models that allow disabled and non-disabled people to live side by side in equally high-quality, affordable homes in their communities.

Allie Cannington is a disabled activist and senior project manager of organizing and advocacy at The Kelsey, which advocates for development of affordable, inclusive community housing. She also serves as co-chair for the Consortium for Constituents with Disabilities Housing Task Force.

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