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A Picture of Disability and Designated Housing

Front Cover of Family Options Study: Short-Term Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families

It is estimated that 20 percent of households receiving HUD assistance have disabled members. The department’s Office of Policy Development and Research recently released a study, A Picture of Disability and Designated Housing, that explored the status of available and accessible housing for HUD-assisted households with disabled members, compared the profile of this population with that of the larger population of disabled U.S. residents, and considered the implications of these findings for HUD policy and data resources.

Researchers used HUD administrative data, the 2009–2013 American Community Survey (ACS), and 2006–2010 and 2008–2010 Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) data to develop a picture of households with disabilities and their HUD-assisted housing. In laying the groundwork for this inquiry, the researchers acknowledged that HUD’s definition of disability has varied, both over time and for different programs, and that comparisons of HUD programs and comparisons with the larger population of U.S. households with disabled members can be challenging.

Disability Rates in U.S. and HUD-Assisted Households

The rate of disability in the United States is highest in the South and in rural areas and is significantly higher among poorer households (17.6%) than nonpoor households (11.2%). Elderly persons with disabilities are more heavily represented in poor households (51%) than in nonpoor households (35%). There are 407 persons with disabilities for every 1,000 HUD-assisted households — in contrast to 322 persons with disabilities per 1,000 households in the general U.S. population (see table). In both populations, disability rates are higher among females as well as in the cohort of working age adults (those aged 18 to 64).

HUD-Assisted Households U.S. Households
Persons with disabilities per 1,000 households 407 322
Males 38% 48%
Females 62% 52%
Working age (18–64) 70% 52%
Seniors (65+) 21% 40%
Children (under 18) 9% 8%

The prevalence of particular disabilities in the U.S. population — including hearing or vision impairment, ambulatory limitation, cognitive limitation, and self-care or independent living limitation — was highest among households with the lowest incomes. Many households with disabled members who are potentially eligible for HUD assistance do not receive it. Even among extremely low-income households with disabled members, more than 70 percent of total households and more than 50 percent of renter households receive no assistance from HUD.

HUD-Assisted Housing: Available and Accessible?

All HUD programs serve some households with disabled members. Larger numbers of disabled persons are served by large (as opposed to small or medium-sized) public housing agencies (PHAs). Among HUD programs, the prevalence of disabled persons was highest in the mainstream Housing Choice Voucher program, which targets households with disabled members — although this program has no provisions for needed disability accommodations. Disability rates are highest among households with the lowest incomes regardless of location or PHA size.

For those living in HUD-assisted units, only 30 percent of households with disabled members who requested accessibility features in their housing actually received them. Central counties and large PHAs are the most likely to match disabled households with requested accommodations. Only 3 percent of disabled households living in public housing were in units with accessibility features, regardless of whether the households had requested them.

In HUD-assisted multifamily housing with units designated for particular types of disability, the chronically mentally ill held the highest proportion of units. HUD multifamily programs designed specifically to serve the needs of the disabled, such as Section 811 and Section 202, had the largest share of disability households in properties with units set aside for the disabled.

Among other HUD programs that do not specifically target disability needs, tenant-based vouchers had the highest representation of disabled participants, but the vouchers are not teamed with supportive services. In addition, the vouchers do not convey to other disabled households with turnover. Notably, less than 5 percent of disabled households in the tenant-based voucher program received any assistance designed to address the unique needs of the disabled.

Implications and Recommendations for the Future

An estimated 78 percent of disabled renter households in the United States do not receive HUD housing assistance. Counties with lower median rents and incomes tend to house a larger concentration of potentially eligible disabled persons who are without HUD assistance and are in lower income brackets. The researchers suggest that these findings indicate a need for more community outreach, particularly in the South, to identify households with disabled members who are potentially eligible for HUD assistance. Because of the aging of the U.S. population, HUD can also expect increased demand for housing assistance from elderly heads of households, among whom the rate of disability tends to be higher.

Future research should explore the unevenness and shortage of services to support and accommodate the unique needs of disabled persons in some HUD-assisted programs and determine why large PHAs are more successful at providing disabled households with accessible units, particularly disabled households earning lower incomes. Possible explanations are that larger PHAs may operate more efficiently due to economies of scale, be better staffed, have more resources to serve special needs populations, be located nearer to larger disabled populations, or have admissions preferences that favor disabled persons in some way.

This study was the product of a Multidisciplinary Research Team initiative, in which researchers use various HUD and external data sources to answer research questions relating to HUD’s priority policies and strategic goals. The study suggested that revisions to HUD’s administrative data sets would eliminate duplicative data across databases, address inconsistency in definitions and treatments of disability across program data sets, and make additional comparisons possible in the future.

The ACS uses the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of disability, which categorizes and outlines types of disability, whereas HUD programs do not. The criteria used by tenant-based housing voucher providers to identify disabled persons supply the definitional frame most applicable to this study: disability as defined by Section 223 of the Social Security Act; a physical, mental, or emotional impairment of long and indefinite duration that impedes the ability to live independently and that could be helped through more suitable housing conditions; a developmental disability; or AIDS and related conditions.