National Alliance on Mental Illness
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June 24, 2003

New Report Highlights Worsening Housing Crisis for SSI Beneficiaries with Mental Illness

For the first time ever, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment has exceeded monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, documenting a worsening housing crisis for SSI beneficiaries with severe mental illness. A new report entitled "Priced Out in 2002" reveals that the combination of extreme poverty and record-setting rent levels has continued to fuel the housing crisis confronting people with severe disabilities in every housing market across the country. This new "Priced Out" report is published by the Technical Assistance Collaborative Inc. and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force (a coalition of national disability advocacy organizations including NAMI).

The "Priced Out in 2002 report can be viewed at either: or

Among the major findings in "Priced Out in 2002" are:

  • In 2002, for the first time ever, the national average rent was greater than the amount of income received by 3.7 million Americans with disabilities who must rely on monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) of $545 to pay for all their basic needs. Specifically, the average national rent for a modest one bedroom rental unit in the United States rose to 105 percent of SSI – up from 98 percent in 2000. Since 1998, SSI monthly income has declined by 6 percent relative to median income while rental costs have risen dramatically. By contrast, between 2000 to 2002, rents have increased 14 percent. In nine states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia, rents increased 15 percent between 2000 and 2002.
  • In 2002, people with disabilities were "priced out" of every housing market in the United States. Of the nation’s 2,702 housing market areas, there was not one single area where modestly priced rental units were affordable to people with disabilities receiving SSI. 132 housing markets have average rents above 100 percent of SSI monthly income – 9 more areas than in 2000. These market areas include major portions of entire states including California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and the entire metropolitan area of Washington, D.C. In 17 of the country’s highest cost housing market areas, monthly rents were more than 150 percent of SSI monthly income. In 16 states and the District of Columbia, one-bedroom units renting at the HUD FMR exceeded 100 percent of monthly SSI income. Even in the most affordable state – Oklahoma – people receiving SSI income needed to spend 67 percent of their monthly income for a modest one bedroom rental unit.
  • People with disabilities continue to be the poorest people in the nation. As a national average, SSI benefits in 2002 were equal to only 18.8 percent of the one-person median household income. State supplements to SSI benefit income are not sufficient to make up the housing "affordability gap". In 16 of the 24 states that provide a supplement (ranging from $2 in Oregon to $362 in Alaska), SSI benefit income was still below 20 percent of the median income. This data provides a strong case that housing assistance – and not a modest increase in SSI – is the appropriate solution to these housing affordability problems.
  • Rental housing costs continued to increase much more rapidly in 2002 than the income of people with disabilities. From 2000 to 2002, rental housing costs rose at twice the rate of SSI cost-of-living adjustments. In high cost housing market areas, increases in rental housing were six times higher than SSI benefit increases.
  • Even if people with disabilities receiving SSI benefits (equivalent to an hourly wage of $3.43) move on to full time employment at the minimum wage, they could not afford rental housing costs in 2002. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Housing Wage for 2002 was $12.08 per hour – about twice the minimum wage and more than 3 times higher than SSI monthly income.

NAMI Advocates Can Use the "Priced Out in 2002" Report

NAMI affiliate leaders are strongly urged to use this new report to better educate local officials about the worsening crisis faced by SSI beneficiaries with severe mental illnesses. This report is very effective in demonstrating that SSI recipients need basic assistance (including monthly rent subsidies) in order to access decent, safe and affordable housing. NAMI advocates are therefore urged to share this new report with:

  • State and local housing agencies – including local housing authority directors, city and county community development agencies, state housing finance authorities and non-profit affordable housing developers. These agencies are responsible for directing affordable housing resources at the local level. This "Priced Out" report is critical tool in making the case of more effective targeting of these resources to development of housing for people with disabilities.
  • Public mental health agencies – including county and non-profit mental health authorities and CMHCs. Local agencies managing services for individuals with severe mental illnesses need to be engaged in helping to make the case for additional housing resources targeted to consumers living on SSI.
  • Colleague disability organizations – including organizations such as the Arc, United Cerebral Palsy, Easter Seals and Centers on Independent Living. Other organizations serving and advocating for SSI beneficiaries are natural coalition partners in making the case of more focused attention at the state and local level on the housing needs of all people with disabilities.