U.S. housing prices shot up 18.8% in 2021, the highest calendar year increase in 34 years of data. Residential rents typically follow home prices, and this past year was no exception. This January’s average rents were 15.2% higher than last January’s. Rents skyrocketed in 48 of the 50 biggest U.S. metro areas. The highest jump? Portland, Oregon, at +39%.
What’s behind the current housing crisis? 2022 housing problems are not much different those in the past: It’s still a matter of supply and demand. In Oregon, that issue is exacerbated by an influx of people moving to the state. Yes, still: Oregon’s popularity may have waned slightly, but in 2021, we ranked 8th in the top ten most inbound states. And though you might think the pandemic would have kept people from moving, it had the opposite effect: 56% of Americans moved in 2021 as compared to 35% in 2020.
Added to the influx of newcomers is another issue: “Luxury” housing is replacing homes with modest prices and rents, creating a lack of affordable housing solutions. According to Housing Oregon, 250,000 families in Oregon need affordable housing. There are only 143,000 units available. And you’re plain out of luck if you need Section 8 housing. Home Forward (Oregon’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) chapter) has not allowed new applications for Section 8 since 2016.
The lack of affordable housing solutions hits people with disabilities especially hard. Why? “People who experience disabilities, particularly those we serve (at ALSO) don’t have the ability to generate income as readily as people who don’t have disabilities,” says Julie Leahy, ALSO’s Chief Financial Officer. “A lot of the people in our support rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as their main source of income, which right now is $841 a month. HUD—the Housing Authority—says that a home is affordable when it’s 30% or less of someone’s monthly income. I did that math: If someone is on SSI, their rent should be around $252. That level of subsidy isn’t even out there except in Section 8.”
Since Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is based on a person’s work history, it can provide more income than SSI—but not enough. The average disabled-worker benefit in February 2022 was about $1,359 a month. If they were to pay a third of their income for rent, it’d be $408 a month. The average cost for a one-bedroom apartment is Portland is $1,499. And there is another problem. People who get Social Security benefits (both SSDI and SSI) can earn some money, but not much. At a certain limit, the Social Security Administration deducts $1 for every $2 in income earned. “We’re not talking about people making $30 an hour,” says Julie. “It’s very difficult for people experiencing disabilities to go out and get a job in the first place, let alone make enough money to afford an apartment.” There’s an additional barrier for people living on SSI. “One of the hardest things is the asset limit,” says Julie. “They cannot have more $2000 in assets every month—cash or a second vehicle or anything that’s countable. That makes it difficult to save up for a security deposit. To save up for anything really. The whole Social Security system is kind of designed to keep people from having too much money, but when you combine that with a system where there’s not enough housing—let alone affordable or low-income housing—you’re not leaving people with many options.” Read more about Social Security disability benefits here.
What are the housing options for Oregonians with Intellectual/Developmental disabilities? People with I/DD receiving services in Oregon basically have two options:
Unfortunately, the first option is often unavailable due to the lack of affordable housing. “I believe that there are plenty of people in 24-hour residential care that would be better suited for supported living or even living in their own homes, but they don’t have housing. It’s ‘bring your own housing,” says Julie. “We give people as much choice as we can in our residential services but there’s only so much we can do. These are adults. Maybe they don’t need or like direct support professional staff there all the time, or don’t want a roommate. They’re in a service they are kind of forced into because they can’t afford their own place.”
A similar issue may arise for adults living in their family homes. “They might prefer to be in supported living, but they have to live with their parents,” says Julie. “If they had their own household, they could have more choice about the services they’re being provided, but they can’t afford their own place because they’re on SSI and there just aren’t any other options. This really bothers me.”
“We thought about switching some of our residential homes to supported living and renting them out, but we realized that being both people’s service provider and their landlord could create an issue,” says Julie. “If someone was living in an ALSO home, but wanted to receive services from a different agency, they’d lose their housing. That’s not really giving them a choice.”
That’s why ALSO decided to create a separate nonprofit: ALSO Home. “It’s not easy to open a nonprofit affiliate in the middle of a pandemic,” says Julie. “There are a lot of things in the works. Right now we’re in the process of applying for funding for a low-income housing complex that would have units set aside specifically for people who experience intellectual and developmental disabilities. It would not be exclusively for people with disabilities because we want it an inclusive community.” In other words, ALSO is taking action. “We’re not just talking about the problem and complaining about the problem and taking bites around the problem but tackling the housing crisis head on by actually creating more housing.”
You can take action, too. Help us create affordable housing for people with disabilities (and others!) by participating in ALSO Home’s Virtual Annual Benefit this April 21, 2022. Let’s make a real difference in people’s lives by giving them a choice, and a place to call home.
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