National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Housing: An Overview


Access to decent, safe, and affordable housing remains a tremendous challenge for adults with severe mental illnesses. Unfortunately, in virtually every part of the United States people with severe mental illnesses struggle to find good-quality housing they can afford. Many people with the most severe and disabling mental illnesses also need access to appropriate services and supports so that they can successfully live in community-based housing, which promotes their independence and dignity.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and many state and local agencies responsible for administering our nation's affordable-housing system do little to alleviate this struggle to access community-based housing and supports. Historically, HUD has made little effort to understand the real implications and bitter reality of recent federal housing policies -- policies that have reduced the federally subsidized housing units available to people with severe mental illnesses and other disabilities.

Current housing policies

Current housing policies were enacted by Congress in 1992 and 1996 to permit public and assisted-housing providers to designate housing as "elderly only." People with disabilities and their advocates understand that Congress must replace the hundreds of thousands of units of federally subsidized housing no longer available to people with disabilities, including people with severe mental illnesses.

HUD has also failed to preserve and adequately fund the Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program, which was designed to provide housing and supports to people with severe disabilities. But for the efforts of a few leaders in Congress, an increasing number of adults with severe mental illnesses would continue to live at home with aging parents or in substandard housing.

Without additional resources, too many adults with severe mental illnesses will likely end up homeless or remain in inappropriate settings (e.g., homeless shelters and local jails and prisons).

Even though finding decent, safe, and affordable housing with adequate and appropriate supports remains daunting for so many consumers and families, some progress has been made in recent years. Since 1997, NAMI has worked closely with allies in Congress, including Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), to add more than $210 million to the HUD budget for tenant-based rental assistance for people with disabilities who have been (and will be) adversely affected by "elderly only" public and assisted housing designation. (Adults with severe mental illnesses are especially vulnerable in the "elderly only" housing designation process because of the stigma associated with their illnesses).

Priced out

The bitter irony of this loss of housing is that it comes when people with all types of disabilities (including severe mental illnesses) are increasingly able to live successfully in homes of their own—but only if independent housing is affordable and paired with appropriate supports and services. According to a 1999 HUD report, nearly 40% of the nation’s homeless are single adults with severe mental illnesses. In addition, Priced Out in 2002 (PDF, 800 KB) (which NAMI helped write) reports that SSI income is less than 19% of median income nationally and that the average rent for a modest, one-bedroom apartment is greater than the full amount of a person's monthly SSI check.

These homeless and income numbers clearly demonstrate that people with disabilities (including severe mental illnesses) have the "worst" of the "worst case needs" and that their needs cannot be ignored by Congress, HUD, or state and local governments. While funding for tenant-based vouchers are helpful to many very low-income individuals with mental illnesses, new housing to serve people at the bottom of the economic ladder is also needed.

NAMI therefore supports efforts underway in Congress to establish a new, federal, flexible housing-production program for households at 30% of median income and below. In addition, proposals to restrict enforcement of the Fair Housing Act could make it more difficult to combat the "NIMBYism" that results from stigma and discrimination faced by group homes and other shared community-based housing.

In 2000, Congress also maintained funding for homeless-assistance programs under the McKinney-Vento Act at $1.02 billion and established a new $90-million account to ensure that all expiring rent subsidies under the Shelter Plus Care program are renewed in future years.

Shelter Plus Care (part of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act) is a critical resource for helping states and communities fund permanent housing and supportive services for homeless individuals with severe mental illnesses. This new account at HUD will ensure that formerly homeless tenants in Shelter Plus Care housing will not be at risk of losing their housing.

In addition to the new account at HUD for Shelter Plus Care renewals, Congress continued for 2001 the requirement for a minimum 30% of funds to go toward developing permanent housing (and a 25% match requirement for communities using funds for services).

NAMI supports both a reliable, long-term source of funds for Shelter Plus Care renewals and the 30% permanent housing set-aside, believing they are critical for endingchronic homelessness.

NAMI supports HUD programs that finance permanent housing and public mental heath programs that fund supportive services to assist formerly homeless tenants in these settings.

Finally, NAMI continues to work with allies in the disability community to oppose legislative proposals intended to scale back the existing protections in the Fair Housing Act that bar discriminatory zoning and the land-use policies that restrict placement of group homes and shared living arrangements in the community.

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