Housing Agencies Tend to Go Where Needed

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Public housing agencies frequently prioritize people with disabilities on their waiting lists for subsidized apartments and federal rent vouchers. But agency budgets are tight, often requiring state and local governments to stretch a single housing office to serve multiple counties.

Many of the people on the waiting lists are also receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federal program that makes monthly cash payments to low-income people with disabilities and is one way to verify they qualify for the housing preference.

A new study substantiates this connection: SSI applications are 11 percent higher in counties with housing offices than in counties that lack an office and are being served by a nearby county. The housing agencies also tend to be concentrated in areas with larger non-Hispanic Black populations, which have higher rates of disability than White Americans.

Together, these findings are a pretty good indication that housing officials’ decisions about where to locate their field offices are being driven at least in part by efforts to reach as many people with disabilities as possible, the researchers said in their analysis, which paired federal data on housing subsidies with the Social Security Administration’s records for SSI recipients.

But a more rigorous analysis is needed to determine whether adding a housing office in a county would increase or decrease SSI applications. The answer actually could go in either direction because SSI payments to low-income people are so intertwined with public housing assistance.

On the one hand, SSI applications might fall if local governments add new housing offices in high-need areas with the most potentially eligible SSI applicants. A new office, by distributing more housing assistance locally, would sharply cut or even eliminate low-income residents’ monthly housing costs. When this is the case, those who were not already on SSI might not see as pressing a need to apply.

But SSI applications might instead increase if a new office gives county residents an incentive – albeit an indirect one – to seek approval for SSI so they can move the waiting list for housing. Having a local office just makes that easier. About half of the housing offices in this study give priority to heads of households with disabilities.

Understanding how the SSI and housing programs affect each other “could help policymakers to better choose locations when opening or closing” housing agencies, the researchers said.

To read this study, authored by Carly Urban and Sambath Jayapregasham, see “Access to a Local Public Housing Authority Office and SSI Participation.”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.