There is an epidemic in our country that no media outlets are reporting on, and no politician seems to be talking about. A forgotten population without well monied lobbyists and political action committees to help in their struggle. They are the seniors and disabled on SSI that are being priced out of the private rental market. They are finding years long waiting lists for subsidized housing, and are either living well beyond their means, living in homeless shelters, back with family, or are forced into more restrictive housing options that rob them of their independence. These are the most vulnerable in our society; people with psychiatric disabilities, adults with Autism, or intellectual disabilities, and seniors without enough work credits to collect traditional Social Security benefits. The type of people who need our help the most, but often get mixed in with a group many refer to as “moochers” or “worthless eaters”.
Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is a federal program provided by the Social Security Administration that provides a modest income to those who qualify. In 2018, the payment for SSI is $750 a month for a single person and $1125 for a couple, not nearly enough to cover rent or expenses in most parts of the United States. With rents skyrocketing everywhere, utility costs through the roof, and food costs going higher and higher, people on this program are finding it harder to just survive. While subsidized housing seems to be the answer to this problem, the backlog is ridiculous and is making life even harder for this extremely vulnerable population.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 25% of subsidized housing waiting lists have a wait of at least 3 years, and another 25% have a waiting list of seven years or longer. The wait for a housing voucher (Section 8) is even worse with 53% of waiting lists closed, and 65% of lists being closed for over a year. In an article from the Washington Post, the wait for a one bedroom subsidized apartment in the Metro DC area is reported to be a whopping 28 YEARS! Waits like these are inconceivable, and even worse if you need a handicap accessible unit or a larger apartment to accommodate a family.
The Coalition to End Homelessness states that adults with disabilities are four times more likely to be homeless, and that 50% of homeless are over the age of 50. Statistics from DisabilityScoop.com state that 42.8% of people using homeless shelters are disabled. Those that do avoid homelessness are often left with a severe housing cost burden.
Severe housing cost burdens are defined as an individual or family paying more than 50% of total monthly income toward housing costs. This is an issue not only faced by SSI recipients, but also the working poor. It is reported that in 2014, 6.6 million American households fell into this category. People on SSI oftentimes pay almost their entire benefit just for housing, and rely on utility assistance (Which is also slated for severe cuts.) to cover electricity and heating costs. Many are forced to reduce the amount of heat they use as a way to make the ends meet, which can be dangerous to the elderly and people with physical disabilities. When a rent increase goes beyond their income, and a credit destroying eviction looming, many are left in this type of socioeconomic limbo that oftentimes makes the symptoms of their disabilities worse from stress.
We need to find a way as a society to make sure that these vulnerable citizens are taken care of and can live the most independent lives they possibly can. It isn’t fair to the mentally ill (whom we wrongly discharged from institutions in the 80’s and 90’s) to now face homelessness. It isn’t fair to our elderly to expect them to turn off the heat in winter to make ends meet, or to pay most of their income toward housing. It isn’t fair to our intellectually disabled and Autistic adults to be forced to live in restrictive group homes after years of independence due to a sudden cut to their incomes. Whether the answer is giving these people a housing voucher upon receiving SSI, or raising the benefit amount so that they can afford market rate rentals, something MUST be done. To continue to ignore the problem is heartless and benefits no one. The elephant in the room isn’t going away until something is done about it.
Someone once said that the value of a society is placed on how we treat our most vulnerable, and we are failing miserably. We should be ashamed as a nation that we have allowed this to happen in the richest country on planet Earth.