Study Finds Government Benefit, Rent Costs Gap
According to a report by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, the national average rent on a studio or one-bedroom apartment is now 105 percent of the monthly SSI payment. In big cities, rents run closer to twice the SSI check -- which is supposed to pay all of someone's living costs, not just the rent. The report also finds that in expensive rental markets, the cost of rent has been going up about six times faster than increases to the monthly Social Security check.
June 17, 2003 -- For nearly 4 million poor people with severe disabilities, a new report by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities says that a key government subsidy has not kept pace with rising rents. NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports that the result is many people end up in sub-standard housing, or sometimes living in unexpected places.
Anthony White is just 26, and in the past year has lived in two hospitals and now a nursing home in Washington, D.C. He came to the nursing home because he needed medical care, but he stays -- largely because he has no other place to go.
White was born with spina bifida and uses crutches, leg braces and a wheelchair to move his large and heavy body. He was just 16 when his mother died, and White moved to his grandmother's house.
Living conditions there were far from ideal -- he slept on a blanket on the floor, and had to drag himself up the narrow stairwell to the second-floor bedroom. That opened up sores on his feet, landing White first in the hospital and later in the nursing home where he still lives.
"His situation is unfortunately very common," says Marjorie Rifkin of University Legal Services, a public law firm that represents the disabled. She tells Shapiro there are many clients in desperate need of housing -- but there's too little government-subsidized housing available.
"And as a result, they end up spending years on the waiting list for public housing or subsidized Section 8 housing, and we're seeing fewer and fewer of those units available to people living on extremely low incomes," she says.
A Social Security payment called Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is meant to provide a livable income for people who are so disabled they have never been able to work. But disability housing advocate Ann O'Hara says SSI has not kept up with the rising cost of housing.
"In 2002, that benefit came from the federal government in the amount of $545 a month -- and with that amount of money it is literally impossible for a person to find a decent and safe place to live, unless they were actually spending more than their entire monthly income for that housing," she says.
O'Hara is the author of the new Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities report, called Priced Out in 2002. The findings of that report are troubling: Nationally, the average rent on a studio or one-bedroom apartment is now 105 percent of the monthly SSI payment. In big cities, rents run closer to twice the SSI check -- which is supposed to pay all of someone's living costs, not just the rent.
The report also finds that in expensive rental markets, the cost of rent has been going up about six times faster than increases to the monthly Social Security check. The gap between SSI and actual rents, O'Hara says, is driving many people into what she calls the "housing underground."
Read the full Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities report
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