Rent prices in the community have skyrocketed while the income of people with disabilities has not

Numbers from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Social Security Administration confirm what we already knew – market-rate housing is out of reach for many of the people we serve.

Every year, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) publishes the Fair Market Rents (FMR) for metropolitan areas across the country. This number represents the cost of a unit at the 40th percentile (meaning 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.  Many people with serious mental illness receive their only income from SSI. SSI is the most common income type for DESC’s target population: people who have disabilities and have been homeless for long periods of time.

Graph showing Supplemental Security Income vs. Fair Market Rents over timeThe chart to the right helps explain the shortage of housing available to people with disabilities in Seattle.  The blue line shows the monthly amount of assistance a disabled person can receive from the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.  The orange line shows the monthly “Fair Market Rent” for an efficiency (studio) apartment in the Seattle area over the same time period.  For many years, the income of a person receiving SSI was close to the rent benchmark. Over the last five years, however, rents have increased sharply while the SSI income level has not.

What this illustrates is that there previously was some portion of the private rental market that was within the financial reach of a disabled person on SSI (even though the rent likely amounted to a high percentage of the person’s income). Today, virtually all units in the private rental market are priced at levels higher than this person’s entire income.  The only way a person receiving SSI today can cover the cost of even the lowest rent in the area is by using a rent subsidy.  Subsidized housing is available to only a fraction of the 37,000 SSI recipients in King County.