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September 15, 2015

Disabilities and public housing: A closer look

September 15, 2015

Almost two out of every five working-age (age 25 to 61) public housing residents report having a disability, compared with about 1 out of 10 (11 percent) of the entire working-age population nationally. With the growing emphasis on public housing programming on self-sufficiency, service coordination, and supportive services, we need to know more about this vulnerable population in order to better serve them and enable them to live independently.

In my recent research article with Debra Brucker at the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disabilities, we examined national Current Population Survey data to explore linkages between public housing, public benefit assistance, and employment among people with disabilities. We also explored how housing and benefit assistance may vary by the types of disabilities reported by respondents. Our goal was to raise the profile of this vulnerable population within the public housing community, and suggest some ways forward for policy and research.

Here are some highlights from the full report:

  • Almost one out of every four (24 percent) working-age public housing residents reported receiving Disability Insurance and/or Supplemental Security Income. That means approximately 16 percent of public housing residents with a reported disability do not currently receive any public disability benefit. This could be because they are able to work despite their disabilities, have otherwise failed to meet eligibility criteria, or have not applied for or yet received benefits.
  • Those in public housing who don’t receive disability benefits are significantly less likely to be employed (16 percent) than those living in other housing (40 percent). Working-age people with disabilities that do receive public disability benefits have even lower employment rates, ranging from just 3 percent to 8 percent, regardless of whether they live in public housing.
  • Those in public housing who don’t receive disability benefits are also significantly more likely to report certain disabilities: cognitive (30 percent vs. 20 percent), ambulatory (40 percent vs. 35 percent), self-care (11 percent vs. 8 percent), independent living (21 percent vs. 14 percent), and work disabilities (79 percent vs. 58 percent) than those living in other types of housing.

Taken together, this information poses important questions for further policy consideration and research. How do we better serve the high number of people with disabilities living in public housing, particularly those who cannot work? What about those who do work? What work do they find, does this vary by disability type, and is the earned income enough to move toward economic self-sufficiency? How can the public housing and public disability benefits programs work together better to help people with disabilities live stable, self-sufficient, independent lives?

We hope recent investments in exploring the housing challenges facing people with disabilities—including accessibility and discrimination—will be expanded to specifically consider the difficulties facing the large proportion of low-income, non-elderly households with a broad range of disabilities living in public housing.

In this photo taken on Friday Jan. 13, 2012, Mary Ann Albornoz sits in her wheelchair near the kitchen in her room at Staybridge Suites in Parsippany, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

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