Low-Income Housing Options for People with Disabilities

Posted by Pam Hill in HousingDecember 15, 2022(Last Updated November 23, 2022)4 min read
Key Takeaways
  • October is National Disability Employment Awareness month. 
  • A lack of affordable housing near good-paying jobs disproportionately impacts people with disabilities.
  • Federal, state and local programs, provide low-income housing options for the disabled.
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October is National Disability Employment Awareness month (NDEAM). NDEAM highlights the many contributions made by Americans with disabilities, and showcases examples of proactive and inclusive engagement. 



The theme for NDEAM 2022, “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation,” recognizes the broad spectrum of roles that that people with disabilities play in an equitable workforce.  This year's theme also highlights the connection between good-paying jobs and affordable housing. A lack of accessible, affordable housing in high density job areas such as cities and downtown districts can have a disproportionate impact on disabled workers, who may have limited access to transportation to reach jobs in suburban areas.  As a consequence, the prospect of homelessness can be a real risk for people with a disability. 


In this article we will explore housing programs and resources geared toward people with disabilities. 


Federal Government Agencies that Support Vulnerable Populations

Individuals with disabilities historically have faced discrimination and accessibility challenges that have limited their opportunity to live independently in the community. These obstacles include a shortage of affordable and integrated housing opportunities. As a consequence, people with significant or long-term disabilities are often at greater risk of homelessness, or live in settings that are institutional or isolated.  


The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are two agencies that place a special emphasis on housing individuals and families who have a health, economic or other challenges.  State, county and municipal housing and health and human service agencies provide an additional source of funding and programming.


HUD Services

The Housing Choice Voucher Program


The Housing and Urban Development agency helps lows low income households,  those with disabilities and the elderly afford housing through its largest rental assistance program, the Housing Choice Voucher program, also referred to as Section 8 housing.  Housing choice vouchers can be used to pay a household’s rent in full or in part, depending on the total income of the family.  


Families can choose to use their voucher to rent homes including apartments, single family residences, townhouses, manufactured housing and subsidized housing projects, thus underscoring the ‘choice’ in Housing Choice Vouchers.  Once a family has determined the type of residence they would like to live in and the location— urban, suburban, rural, or anything in between— the family contacts landlords with homes that meet their criteria.  Because not all landlords accept Housing Choice Vouchers, this can be one of the biggest barriers to finding a home.  Once a family and the landlord agree on a home, the housing subsidy is paid directly to the landlord on behalf of the family.


Eligibility for housing vouchers is determined by state, county and municipal housing agencies, who implement the Housing Choice Voucher program at a local level.  The program is limited to U.S. citizens and specified categories of non-citizens who have eligible immigration status.  Housing authorities calculate the voucher amount based on the family’s annual gross income and size.  In general, the family's income must be 50% or less of the average income for the county or metropolitan area where the family will live. 


By law, 75% of all the vouchers that a housing authority provides must go to very low income households whose gross income is 30% or less of the area’s average income.  As an example, if the average income for a particular zip code, called the median income by HUD, is $50,000 for a family of four, then using the 50% test, a family of four must earn $25,000 or less to qualify for a HUD voucher.  Using the 30% test, three-quarters of all the vouchers issued by the housing authority for that area must go to households who earn no more than 30% of $50,000, or $15,000. 


Section 811 Subsidies 

HUD’s 811 program uses housing as a platform to improve the quality of life and create inclusive communities for persons with disabilities, particularly those who are homeless or are living in high-cost institutional settings.  The 811 program provide rental subsidies for extremely low-income households, where at least one individual in the household has a disability, and is at least 18 years old and less than 62 years old at the time of lease signing. The person with a disability must be eligible for community-based, long-term services as provided through Medicaid waivers, Medicaid state plan options, state-funded services or other services supporting the target population.


Services Offered by HHS 


The Administration for Community Living

The Department of Health and Human Services provides housing assistance through its agency, the Administration for Community Living (ACL).  The Administration for Community Living plays an advocacy role by championing the rights and needs of people with disabilities, older adults and caregivers across the federal government.  The ACL also ensures, through monitoring, that funding, programs and resources are implemented at the state and non-profit level.  Training programs, workshops, and research provided at the community level help supplement the efforts of non-profits and other groups. 


One of ACL’s core objectives is to fund housing programs that are accessible across a wide range of abilities, from mobility to visual to intellectual.  ACL seeks to achieve this by using small group residences to integrate and engage its residents within the community, versus the historical model of isolated, institutional settings.   


A second goal of ACL is to promote independent, self-sufficient living with appropriate supports.  ACL’s Centers for Independent Living collaborate with state agencies to provide tools and supports for integrating people with disabilities.  These resources allow for a fuller participation in the community, leading to enhanced opportunities, self-determination, and dignity.


The Bottom Line

Low-income people with a disability will likely find it especially challenging to obtain accessible, affordable housing.  Housing options for low-income individuals with disabilities and their families are available principally through HUD vouchers and HHS supportive services.  That said, many states, counties and municipalities run their own housing assistance programs in parallel with those offered by federal agencies, so it pays to explore federal as well as local options. 

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