The shortage of accessible, affordable housing is a major barrier to many Coloradans with disabilities. For some people, suitable housing is so prohibitively expensive that they are left with no choice but to live in nursing homes or other institutional settings, or to become homeless.

Nationally, there are approximately 282,000 individuals with a self-reported disability living in homeless shelters, or about 43 percent of the total shelter population. It is not known how many additional people with disabilities are homeless and living on the streets. (1)

Accessibility features such as ramps, wider doorways, and bathroom grab bars, raised counters, and reachable controls are not expensive when incorporated into the original design of houses and apartments, but many properties have been designed without attention to access needs. Such features are often only found in more expensive developments. In privately-financed housing, tenants with disabilities who need access modifications are responsible for paying for those modifications themselves.

Considering the disability community’s high rates of unemployment and poverty, tenants may not be able to pay for needed modifications, or for more expensive housing. Indeed, many individuals with disabilities are dependent on SSI, Section 8 housing vouchers, and other state and federal benefits to pay for housing. Few independent living housing options are available to people with disabilities and limited financial means.

In 2008, the average SSI monthly benefit payment was $662. At this amount, 89.9 percent of the SSI benefit would be required to rent a typical studio apartment; 102.1 percent of the benefit would be required to rent a typical one bedroom apartment. (2) Most personal finance experts advise people to spend no more than one-third of their income on housing.

The problem is made worse by the high demand for low-cost and subsidized rental units. In 2000, there were 16,135 low-income renters in Colorado, or 32.6 percent of the total number of renters. (3) In 2008, only 1,751 Colorado families with disabilities had their rents subsidized with housing choice vouchers. (4) Many more people with disabilities are waiting for housing vouchers to become available.

There is also a disconnect between the available accessible housing and the people who need it. Colorado currently has a total of 2,376 units with accessible features. However, only 4.5 percent of these units are designated for people with disabilities. (5)

The Multifamily onhealthy.net Housing Inventory Survey of Units for the Elderly and Disabled found 1,019 units in Colorado designated for people with disabilities in 2008.(6)

If finding rental accommodation is challenging, then homeownership, a staple of the American Dream, is completely out of reach for the majority of people with disabilities.  In addition to limiting how much a person can earn, SSI rules prohibit having personal assets worth more than $2,000. This requirement denies people with disabilities receiving SSI the ability to accumulate savings for a down payment, retirement pensions, and so on. As a result, individuals on SSI cannot get ahead financially, plan for a secure retirement, or make an investment in their own home to rise out of poverty. Without assets, people can be vulnerable to changing financial circumstances.

There are no easy answers to Colorado’s housing problem. However, there are some actions and policies that the State should consider:

  • Apply for newly released federal housing vouchers, including those earmarked for people with disabilities, and for people with disabilities living in institutions who need affordable housing in order to transition out.
  • Apply for newly released federal grant funding to improve coordination between affordable housing programs and long-term care and other community-based support service programs.
  • Allocate more funding from the federal HOME Investment Partnership program to Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) to provide rental subsidies.
  • Make funding available to tenants and homeowners with disabilities who need access modifications in order to function more easily or independently in their homes.
  • Educate people with disabilities and property managers about their respective rights and obligations under state and federal Fair Housing laws.

(1)National Council on Disability, Jan. 19, 2010, The State of Housing in the 21st Century: A Disability Perspective, Retrieved on April 15, 2010, from www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/2010/A_Disability_Perspective.html

(2) Priced Out in 2008: The Housing Crisis for People with Disabilities, Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc., Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Housing Task Force, April 2009.

(3) 17 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, (n.d.) Consolidated Plan/CHAS 2000 Data, Retrieved April 15, 2010, from http://www.huduser.org/datasets/cp.html

(4) U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Resident characteristic report generated by HUD for this report. Resident data reflects tenants in public housing between January 1 and December 31, 2008.

(5) 19 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Retrieved from http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/mfh/hto/inventorysurvey.cfm.

(6) U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Retrieved from http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/mfh/hto/inventorysurvey.cfm.