Finding affordable housing is always a challenge, but it’s especially difficult for low-income people with a disability—homelessness can be a real risk when appropriate, affordable housing is difficult to access. Approximately half a million single adults and heads of households who used homeless shelters over the course of a year reported having a disability, according to data from the Annual Homeless Assessment Report.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) fund housing programs for families and individuals who find themselves in this position. State, county, and local programs exist as well.
- Low-income housing options for the disabled are available through the housing subsidy voucher programs of states’ public housing authorities.
- Different voucher programs are aimed at different populations, depending on specific criteria; eligibility requirements vary for each program.
- Finding and applying for the right HUD or other federal program can be complex; the waiting lists are long and may close when demand is too high.
- Many states run their own housing assistance programs in addition to those offered by federal agencies, so individuals or families should explore local options as well.
Overview of Low-Income Housing Options
HUD and HHS fund state, county, and local municipalities that administer the various programs. Applicants access the benefits by applying through their local public housing authority (PHA).
Nationally, the HUD housing voucher programs are the most important source of assistance for low-income families with a family member with a disability. The grants are administered through state and local PHAs and have the same eligibility criteria regarding income level and amount of financial help provided. The demand for vouchers and other types of housing support far outstrips the funding available. The process can take years.
HUD Voucher Programs
All HUD voucher programs are aimed mainly at households with extremely low incomes, meaning incomes that do not exceed the poverty line or 30% of the local median, whichever is greater. A family with a voucher generally must pay 30% of its income for rent and utilities; the voucher covers the balance, up to a certain amount, with the percentages and limits varying according to local market housing costs. Housing agencies may establish a higher payment standard as a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability.
In practice, income and eligibility requirements can be adjusted by the local PHA to meet local conditions. The PHAs administering the voucher program will give priority to the families most in need—for instance, homeless families, families living in substandard housing, or families whose income is so low that they’re paying more than 50% of their income on rent.
The housing choice voucher (HCV) program is the main housing subsidy program. This program alone helps more than 5 million individuals and more than 2.3 million households nationally. Its goal is to assist “very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.” There is no requirement that there be a disabled person in the household to qualify for an HCV, but having a person with a disability is considered when reviewing their application.
Mainstream vouchers are specifically designed to help families who have a disabled person, ages 18 to 61, in the household. Aside from serving a special population—applicants under age 62—mainstream vouchers are administered using the same rules as other housing choice vouchers.
Non-elderly disabled (NED) vouchers are very similar to the mainstream vouchers, the chief difference being the target population: families where the head, co-head, or spouse in the family is disabled. Like the other vouchers, applications go through the local PHA.
The Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) program is a federal program to assist low-income people living with HIV/AIDS and their families. Granters partner with nonprofit organizations and housing agencies to provide housing and support to these beneficiaries.
HUD VA Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers are dedicated to U.S. military veterans and their families who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of losing their homes. The VASH program combines HUD’s HCV rental assistance for homeless veterans with services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). As of 2021, this program had dispensed more than 100,000 vouchers to eligible veterans. HUD provides rental assistance vouchers through state PHAs for privately owned housing. Information is available through your state’s PHA.
Housing discrimination is illegal. If you think you’ve been discriminated against based on race, religion, sex, marital status, use of public assistance, national origin, disability, or age, there are steps that you can take. One such step is to file a report with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) or with HUD.
Types of Housing Vouchers
HUD vouchers take two main forms:
- Tenant-based vouchers—These vouchers “follow the person,” meaning that the family who receives the voucher can remain in the housing that they already occupy, provided that the building meets the required housing quality standards established by HUD. Once the resident receives the voucher, they inform the building owner or manager to request that the voucher be used to pay for a portion of the rent. If the building hasn’t been certified, a HUD housing inspector will inspect it. If the resident wants to move to a different location, even another state, their voucher “travels” with them.
- Project-based vouchers (PBVs)—These vouchers are attached to specific units in a specific building or project, whose landlord contracts with the state or local PHA to rent to families and individuals with low incomes and disabilities. For elderly or disabled tenants, PBVs have the advantage of offering more services closer to hand because a higher percentage of residents in the project have similar needs, which enables service providers to work more efficiently.
How to Apply for a HUD Voucher Program
For all HUD voucher programs, people seeking assistance should contact the PHA in their area that administers a voucher program and has an open waiting list. Once the voucher is granted, the tenant receives a list of PHA-approved units to choose from or can apply to remain in their current unit.
Referrals to voucher programs. Some properties rely on referrals from state agencies for applicants—i.e., the disabled applicant’s caseworker. These properties are privately owned and managed, and are generally developed to serve the following populations: people who are chronically mentally ill, people who are developmentally disabled, or people who are physically disabled and would benefit from the features of the unit.
HUD-approved housing counseling agencies. If you’re just starting out, it can be time consuming and confusing to track down the correct information for your situation. HUD-approved housing counseling agencies offer guidance.
The Administration for Community Living (ACL), an agency within HHS, directs funds to a number of housing programs for the disabled. One of the ACL’s main goals is to move disabled individuals out of large institutional settings and into smaller group residences. The ACL’s Centers for Independent Living provide links to programs and agencies state by state.
The ACL also supports the Aging and Disability Networks—local, state, and national organizations that support older adults and people with disabilities in their desire to live independently in the community. The focus of an agency can be a specific condition or disability, age group, or service. Some organizations have a wider lens for delivering services.
The Arc is a national organization that helps individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families live productive lives integrated into their communities. The Arc’s state offices can assist people seeking resources and programs in their area.
No Wrong Door (NWD) is a collaboration among the ACL, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Veterans Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). NWD supports state services for older adults, people with disabilities, and their families.
Eldercare Locator is aimed at an older population, but this online network can help connect people to state and local services knowledgeable about low-cost housing options in their area.
How do I apply for a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) voucher program?
A good place to start is to contact the public housing authority (PHA) in your area that administers a voucher program and is allowing applicants onto the waiting list.
How do I find low-cost housing resources near me?
The HUD website lists counseling agencies by state, or you can call 1-888-995-HOPE (4673). Look for an agency that lists “Rental Housing Services.”
Can military service veterans get assisted housing?
Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) combines HUD’s rental assistance for homeless veterans with services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Contact a VA medical center near you and mention your interest in HUD-VASH, or find instructions for contacting the National Homeless Veteran Call Center here.
The Bottom Line
Low-income people with a disability will likely find it especially challenging to obtain affordable and accessible housing. Two federal agencies, HUD and HHS, have partnered to create a more coordinated approach to services.
States and communities have siloed housing and service systems, according to a release about the partnership. A stronger collaboration among systems would enable older adults and people with disabilities, among other populations, to better access supportive services for housing stability.