People With Disabilities Are Significantly Affected by the Housing Crunch

Published April 18, 2022

Housing is getting more expensive across the United States. The number of available homes for sale on the market continues to drop as demand increases. This demand has driven up home costs to the point where a single-family home's median price in 2022 is $375,000. People will continue to list their homes for high prices as long as there are willing buyers. 

The low supply and non-existent affordability of homes for sale also impact national rent prices. In December 2021, rent prices increased 14 percent nationally, with the average renter paying $1,877 per month. 

The effects of housing ripple through communities, but some people are more affected than others. While the lack of affordable and accessible housing has always been a barrier to independent living, low inventory and high prices now have the potential to seriously impact the quality of life of Americans with disabilities − perhaps in an irreversible way. 

Accessible housing is limited

There aren’t enough accessible housing units to accommodate the Americans with disabilities who need them. These units include apartments, houses, and townhomes built to accommodate mobility equipment (a level entrance, a more comprehensive threshold, large bathrooms with support bars), and rental properties that can accommodate people with various physical, mental, and developmental disabilities

Consider what the housing process looks like for someone with a disability in your area. Start by looking at all of the available rentals in your town or city. Then remove any that aren’t built on the first floor and only have stairway access. Remove rental units that have a step up to enter or inaccessible bathroom. Even before you start to filter units by your monthly rental budget, the number of available houses or apartments has dwindled significantly. 

Accessible housing doesn’t just refer to the physical structure that people rent, it also covers the lifestyle factors that allow people with disabilities to live full lives. For example, how close is the unit to a bus stop or other public transit options? Is there ample parking? Can the renter quickly get to a grocery store and other shops if they need to? Can they get to work? 

Without accommodation, renters with disabilities end up paying more for private transit because the only rental units they can find aren’t near the city’s public infrastructure. 

Landlords lack incentives to offer accessible housing

When the housing market is hot, landlords can raise their monthly fees and afford to be picky about who they rent their homes to. When each rental posting garners dozens of applicants, landlords can set higher expectations for credit limits, background checks, and moving processes. The power is in their hands. 

Unfortunately, this means that fewer landlords are working to make their housing accessible. Why should they spend time or money adding ramps or installing safety rails to their purchase units? They don’t need to reach people with disabilities to rent their homes out. 

Even outside of the world of accessibility, the number of affordable rental properties continues to drop. From 2010 to 2016, more than 10,000 property owners left the Housing Choice Vouchers program each year. Known as Section 8, this is a program where the government pays landlords directly while low-income Americans receive vouchers to live in homes. Recipients of Section 8 vouchers typically pay 30 to 40 percent of the rental cost.

Many renters who use Section 8 vouchers have shared their stories of discrimination by landlords who choose tenants who can pull their rental fees out of pocket instead. One Baltimore resident told Vox that she applied to 20 different apartment buildings and was rejected by all of them. Each landlord said they either didn’t accept Section 8 applications or didn’t have those units available. 

Housing for people with disabilities is an international challenge

America isn’t the only country where it is hard for people with disabilities to find housing. In the United Kingdom, many people live with their parents or other guardians. In the eyes of the housing service, this means they are considered suitably housed and that they are low on the priority list for a home. As a result, thousands of people with disabilities continue to live at home with their family. 

Cal Grevers, who uses a wheelchair, shared how frustrating it can be living at home as an adult. 

“When you’re a 28-year-old disabled adult and haven’t been away from your family home for more than a few days, you begin to feel like an eternal teenager,” Grevers told Vice news. “The lack of personal space and privacy is detrimental to your mental health and relationship with your family.”

These homes aren’t always fully accessible either. There are currently 400,000 wheelchair users in England who live in neither adaptable nor accessible homes. As of 2018, 350,000 residents with disabilities had unmet needs in housing. 

These people get by where they live, but many spend years waiting to find affordable and accessible homes.

There are increasing calls to make housing accessible

As the supply of housing continues to decrease, activists are working with government officials to develop solutions for low-income Americans and people with disabilities. In April 2021, the Center of American Progress issued policy guidelines with recommendations to affirm housing rights and ensure access to housing for all who need it.

In New Jersey, legislative bodies work with the housing authority to make the state more accessible. It is currently ranked 35th in the country regarding livability for residents with disabilities. A significant cause of this is a lack of affordable housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Alongside these public efforts, private non-profits are working to connect people with disabilities with housing resources. There is a need for financial assistance and help with navigating the paperwork, government departments, and options for housing. It is difficult to understand your options and rights when they are buried in the depth of government infrastructure. 

Learn more about housing protection laws

If you are interested in learning more about housing for people with disabilities, turn to our guide on accessible housing laws. Learn more about The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the protections it offers. This can help you understand your rights as a person with a disability or the rights of someone you are trying to help. 


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