Rent for smallest apartments way out of reach of SSI recipients

A graph shows an orange line , efficiency apartment rent, that starts at $800 in 2012 and climbs up to $1,829 in 2023, with only a slight dip to $1,523 in 2021, then back up. A teal line below, SSI benefits, starts at $698 in 2012 and gradually reaches $914 in 2023.
The orange line shows HUD’s Fair Market Rents (FMR) for the past 11 years in the private rental market in the Seattle-Bellevue metro area. The teal line shows the maximum an individual can receive in a monthly SSI payment. (Data source: HUD Office of Policy Development & Research and Social Security Administration).

People living on federal disability benefits are priced way out of the private rental market for the smallest apartments in the Seattle-Bellevue metro area, and it only gets worse every year.

With the gap between monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI)* benefits and monthly Fair Market Rents (FMR)** wider than ever in 2023, it’s no wonder that so many people find themselves experiencing homelessness.

In 2023, the FMR for an efficiency apartment in our area is $1,829, while the most common federal disability payment for people experiencing homelessness is $914. The last time that maximum benefits even came close to matching FMR was in 2013-2014. Overall, from 2012-2023, rent has risen by $1,029 while benefits rose by only $216.

The sole income for many people living with serious mental illness, SSI is the most common income type for DESC clients: people who live with disabilities and who have been homeless for long periods of time.

A person on disability can only afford a market rate apartment with a rent subsidy, but rent vouchers or other subsidized housing is not available to most of King County’s 34,000 SSI recipients.

We need more, and affordable, housing

University of Washington assistant professor of real estate Gregg Colburn and data journalist Clayton Aldern conclude in “Homelessness is a Housing Problem” that a lack of affordable housing is the root cause of homelessness in Seattle.

We often hear people blame individuals’ illicit drug use, mental illness or poverty for their homelessness. While such conditions may increase the risk of homelessness, Colburn demonstrates in this video from King County TV that those are not root causes of homelessness in Seattle.

He shows the straight-forward correlations among high median rents and low supply with high homelessness, and low rents and high supply with low homelessness.

It only makes grim sense that the further private rent climbs beyond disability income, without intervention of some kind, the more homelessness we will see, and the more your help will be needed to create and sustain housing for the Seattleites whom we serve.

**The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) publishes the Fair Market Rents (FMR) for US metro areas each year. The FMR represents the cost of a unit at the 40th percentile–40 percent of the units on the private rental market cost less than the FMR.

*Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the federal disability program for people not eligible for a higher level of income through the Social Security Disability Insurance program.