Disabled individuals and families in federally assisted housing face multiple challenges in gaining access to housing units and services that meet their needs—despite legal frameworks meant to help them. This brief focuses on working-age disabled individuals and families with a disabled household member who live in federally assisted housing. It presents evidence of the challenges with federally assisted housing processes and supports for residents with disabilities, and provides recommendations that could help these processes and supports better meet legal obligations and resident needs.
Why this matters
Without improvements in reasonable accommodation processes and service supports, residents with disabilities living in federally assisted housing will continue to experience inconsistent processes and uneven supports, ultimately leading to inequitable outcomes.
Older building structures and lack of resources make accommodations costly. The age and physical structure of older federally assisted housing units can be barriers to providing reasonable accommodations. There are no dedicated federal funding streams that help owners or residents of federally assisted housing pay for reasonable accommodations.
Determining needs and solutions is not straightforward. Residents with disabilities have difficulty accessing information on available unit and building characteristics. It can be hard for housing providers to align accessible units with specific needs. And requiring medical documentation to consider and approve accommodation requests is a fraught (and questionable) process.
Lack of respect and resources can hinder solutions. Attitudes and biases of service providers shape how they treat people with disabilities. These attitudes also influence residents’ confidence in asking for reasonable accommodations. A lack of resources can appear as a lack of respect, slowing the process down and sometimes resulting in inequitable outcomes.
The process creates burdens for both residents and housing providers. Residents feel that they have to know their rights and advocate for themselves to get what they need. Housing providers find that the thresholds for what counts as reasonable are unclear.
Lack of standards and training lead to inconsistencies and bias. Standards and processes for reasonable accommodations in federally assisted family housing vary greatly, increasing the likelihood of inequitable treatment of residents with disabilities across providers or properties. Federally assisted housing owners and managers lack sufficient training on the reasonable accommodation process and how to avoid bias in their decisionmaking.
Housing and services are two fragmented systems and alignment is challenging. They function independently and lack the connections needed to better serve residents with disabilities.
Providers struggle to fund on-site services due to a lack of federal funding. There is no federal funding for onsite resident services and programs in federally assisted housing. Services in the surrounding community can be inadequate.
Residents face numerous challenges in accessing transportation. Transportation affects mobility, relationships, and access to services, yet disabled residents in federally assisted housing can lack adequate transportation options.
Based on the above, our recommendations for improving accommodations and access to services include:
- Provide more federal funding for reasonable accommodations in federally assisted housing to allow housing providers to meet legal requirements.
- Establish a clearer standard for “reasonableness” to promote consistent access to reasonable accommodations across diverse federally assisted housing programs and providers.
- Increase uniformity in reasonable accommodation request processes to ensure equitable treatment and outcomes for residents with disabilities.
- Train and involve more than one person per housing provider and property in reasonable accommodation request decisionmaking to create a more transparent and fair process.
- Improve training, technical assistance and learning opportunities for housing providers to strengthen reasonable accommodation request processes.
- Improve relations between housing managers and tenants with disabilities.
- Give housing providers access to adequate resources to help address residents’ service and support needs.