Section 8 and other housing subsidies (yes, this does apply to your family member)

There is a basic equation for creating supported housing for a family member with a permanent disability:

Housing + Food + Services = Supported Housing.

There is a little more to it, of course, such as transportation and recreation. But solving the basic equation is the most important part of the process.

For each element of the equation, there are government subsidies for which your family member may be eligible. Some of them can be used only for housing, some only for food, some only for services, and some may be used for anything.

The most important housing subsidy is Section 8. Most people have heard of Section 8, but there are a lot of preconceived notions about it that are often wrong. Let’s talk a little about Section 8, and why it is so important that your family member apply for it.

Section 8 is a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It is designed to make housing affordable for those who make less than 50% of the average income in a given geographic area. Many families make the mistake of thinking their family member isn’t eligible because their household income is too high. This would be true if their family member wished to use the voucher to live in the same unit as the rest of the family. But if the goal is for the family member to move into their own home, this isn’t the case. If your family member is 18 or over, and has a permanent disability that results in a limited income, he or she is almost certainly eligible for Section 8.

There are two types of Section 8: mobile (sometimes called portable or tenant-based) and project-based. Mobile Section 8 is a voucher assigned to a person or household: it can be used to rent a house or apartment on the open market. The voucher holder pays 1/3 of his/her income to the landlord, and the organization that issued the voucher (usually a local housing authority) pays the rest of the rent to the landlord, using money from HUD. When the voucher holder moves, he/she takes the voucher to their next home. Project-based Section 8 is different; it is not assigned to a person or household, but to a piece of property, like an apartment in a specific housing project. The resident again only pays 1/3 of his/her income in rent, but cannot take the voucher with him/her when moving.

Often people confuse the two types of Section 8, and assume that applying for Section 8 means their family member will have to live in a housing project. In reality, holding a mobile Section 8 voucher allows for a high degree of flexibility. After the first year of using a mobile voucher, the user can take it anywhere in the U.S. And while normally a voucher holder cannot rent from a family member, this is frequently allowed for voucher holders with a disability, as a reasonable accommodation, provided the voucher holder doesn’t live in the same unit as the landlord. A voucher holder with a disability who needs a live in aide can use the voucher to rent a two-bedroom unit. Provided the aide is someone who wouldn’t be living with the person if not providing care, the aide’s income doesn’t count in qualifying for Section 8, and the aide doesn’t need to pay rent. (Provisions for aides also apply to project-based Section 8.)

Because a mobile Section 8 voucher is so useful, waiting lists are extremely long. In Massachusetts, it can take up to twelve years to get a voucher, depending on where you live. That’s why it is imperative for your family member to apply for Section 8 as soon as he/she turns 18, if he/she wants to live on his/her own by age 30. To learn more about mobile Section 8 and how to apply for it, visit Autism Housing Pathways’ companion website, “18? Section 8!”.

In addition to mobile Section 8, there are other kinds of subsidized and affordable housing. While not as flexible as mobile Section 8, they are worth knowing about; one of them might be a good fit for your family member. They are:

  • State elderly housing: 13.5% of beds in state-supported elderly housing in Mass. are reserved for younger individuals (aged 22 and up) with disabilities.
  • Project-based housing: this includes both project-based Section 8 and projects funded by local housing authorities.
  • Private affordable housing: developers who received tax credits are often required to rent a percentage of units at an “affordable rate” (often 30% of 60% of the area’s average income). While this is not usually affordable for individuals whose only income is Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a parent or other family member can often structure a regular payment to the individual raising income high enough to make it doable. (This will result in a reduction in the person’s SSI, though.)
  • Single Room Occupancy housing through Caritas Communities: this is a furnished room in a larger building, with shared bathroom and cooking facilities. Rent is usually about $145/week. Caritas properties are in walking distance to mass transit.
  • Mass. housing vouchers: Massachusetts has two types of housing vouchers of its own, the Mass. Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) and the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP). They work similarly to mobile Section 8, but an MRVP voucher holder pays 35%-40% of his/her income in rent, rather than 30%. AHVP is specifically for persons with disabilities. These waiting lists are frequently closed, and when open are usually prioritized for the homeless, but are worth knowing about.

To learn more about some of these types of housing, check out our affordable housing links  or consider attending one of Autism Housing Pathways’ workshops on housing.