Vanquishing the Vexation of Housing for Loved Ones with Psychiatric Disabilities

By Pyle, Tom | The Exceptional Parent, July 2017 | Go to article overview

Vanquishing the Vexation of Housing for Loved Ones with Psychiatric Disabilities


Pyle, Tom, The Exceptional Parent


A great vexation of families navigating mental illness is housing. Once a loved one's psychiatric situations is sufficiently reliable, a family's thoughts inexorably turn to the quest for a suitable abode for the loved one. Because loved ones with mental illness tend to be both disabled and poor, their housing need is acute, but their financial capacity abject.

A Quagmire of Questions

Many loved ones with psychiatric disabilities continue to live with parents. This is usually a good thing; the family can give social, financial, and moral support--provided that the family and loved one can overcome the challenges a loved one's illness can pose. Assuming the best, then a gigantic worry eventually arises: what to do for the loved one's housing after the parents pass on? Assuming the worst, where loved ones abandon or are abandoned by their families, loved ones often must default to substandard boarding homes and shelters. This often leads parents to incessant worry or insufferable guilt. Worse still, not a few ill loved ones may live in their cars, if they have them, or in railway stations, under bridges, and on the streets, the nadir of all possible living situations, especially for one with a psychiatric disability.

The vexation for families comes when confronting the critical questions about housing for their disabled loved ones ... Where to find it? How to afford it? What to expect of supports along with it? How long can one keep it? Who has priority for it? How to qualify for it? Who else is competing to get it? The ways and means to get appropriate housing are complex, confusing, and sometimes contradictory. Where do parents even begin?

Housing's Three Key Components

Perhaps the best start is to break down the housing conundrum into components. There are three aspects of housing: stock, subsidies, and supports. Stock refers to the actual number of units in any particular market. Tragically, housing stock in many states is in short supply. Housing prices and rentals in many locations thus rise beyond reach even for the middle class, but especially for the poor. Programs to increase housing stock include special government grants and loans and tax credits for builders of new housing stock, especially when intended to provide for the poor of disabled.

Second are subsidies that can reduce to cost of renting or buying an abode. Market rental rates often far exceed a poor person's ability to pay. A real estate rule-of-thumb says that a person's rent should total no more than 30% of one's disposable income. Yet market rents even for modest one-bedrooms and efficiencies can eat up even 80 % or more of one's disposable income.

Programs providing rental subsidies include Federal and state programs. The best known Federal rental subsidy is the "Housing Choice Voucher" (formerly "Section 8 vouchers) provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and generally passed through state entities.

Third are supports, critical for many loved ones with psychiatric disabilities. These include intensive full live-in supervision and care staff among the residents in "group homes". They also include moderate supports like visits by a social worker, employment counselor, education consultant, direct support staff, psychologist, and even psychiatrist, all to assist the loved one manage daily life. They can also be only very light supports, perhaps only a weekly visit by a social worker, or a collective food shopping outing.

Housing's Seven Phases

Another way to think about housing is temporally, by the stage or phase in time of a loved one's potential housing odyssey. For a disabled loved one, there are seven (7) stages, ranging from most dependent to independent. The first phase might be considered the simplest and surest: familial housing. A loved one living with parents, at least theoretically, can enjoy housing that is lowest cost (e. …

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