Last week, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made the rare decision to loosen its purse strings and allocate $98.5 million in housing choice vouchers—a federally-subsidized rent program for low-income people also known as Section 8—to 285 public housing authorities across the country. But these aren't your regular housing choice vouchers, which are available to anyone making below 50 percent of the average income for their household size in their area. These estimated 12,000 vouchers are specifically meant to help low-income Americans who have a disability and are at risk of being homeless or institutionalized.
Ninety-nine of those vouchers are headed for Multnomah County. Home Forward, Multnomah County's housing authority, has been handed the maximum amount of vouchers HUD has made available for one jurisdiction, valued at around $859,000. It's the first increase in any voucher funding Home Forward has seen in five years, outside of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH).
“Decades of federal disinvestment have led to our local housing crisis and to similar affordable housing emergencies across the country," said Michael Buonocore, director of Home Forward, in a media statement. "These 99 new vouchers are a very big deal for people at risk of institutionalization and an important step in the right direction from Washington, DC."
Many people with disabilities are stuck in poverty solely because of their disability. If a person has a disability that may prevent them from maintaining a steady income, they often rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks from the federal government to make ends meet. It's not a longterm solution, however. According to a report by Technical Assistance Collaborative, average annual income of a single person receiving SSI payments in 2016 was 22 percent below the federal poverty level. In Oregon, the average rent for a person living on SSI would be 144 percent of their monthly SSI check.
Because of the feds' long disinvestment in public housing, Home Forward has a miles-long waiting list for folks hoping to get a voucher. According to a recent Metro report, the average wait time for someone applying for public housing assistance in Multnomah County is 14 years. Home Forward spokesperson Tim Collier says that waiting list currently has 3,056 people on it. The 99 vouchers will be given to people with a disability who are already on the waiting list, and specifically for those already living in an institution. It won't come close to covering the entire population of low-income people with a disability seeking stable housing—but it's a start.
"Living in the community and having more freedom of choice are aspirations of many people with disabilities who live in institutions," said Allen Hines, director of the Real Choice Initiative, in the press statement. "These vouchers create more opportunities for a group that often gets by on a fixed income, below the poverty line."