August 5, 2011
INTEGRATING THE ELDERLY AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES IN PUBLIC HOUSING
By: Kristin Sullivan, Principal Analyst
You asked for strategies public housing authorities (PHAs) may use to reduce tensions between the elderly and individuals with disabilities in federally or state-subsidized elderly housing developments.
Although PHAs are autonomous, quasi-public agencies, they must comply with federal and state laws when developing and managing federally and state-subsidized public housing. Both federal and state law allow individuals with disabilities to live in publicly subsidized elderly housing developments (42 U.S.C. § 1437e and CGS § 8-113a). But tension can develop between the two groups in these “mixed population” developments. States and PHAs have attempted to reduce the tension by (1) creating an elderly preference system in state-subsidized developments (e.g., Massachusetts' “mixed population” law), (2) establishing “elderly only” housing in federally subsidized developments, or (3) improving support services and case coordination for individuals with disabilities. However, a PHA's ability to employ the first two options depends in part on whether a particular housing development receives federal assistance, state assistance, or both.
For federally subsidized mixed population housing developments, federal law (1) prohibits PHAs from giving preference to the elderly (or people with disabilities) but (2) authorizes PHAs to designate federally subsidized developments as “elderly only” if the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approves. For state-subsidized developments, the General Statutes do not allow PHAs to (1) give preference to the elderly or (2) designate developments as elderly only. Thus, without authorizing legislation, these options are not available to Connecticut PHAs, with one exception: developments receiving federal, but not state, assistance may be eligible to apply to HUD for an elderly only designation.
MIXED POPULATION LAW
Although federal law prohibits PHAs from imposing limits on the number of people from one group who may be accepted for occupancy in federally subsidized mixed population housing, states can authorize such “preferences” for developments funded without federal assistance. Massachusetts, for example, enacted a mixed population law in 1995 that applies to state-funded elderly housing developments, which, like Connecticut's, are opened to elderly people and people of all ages with disabilities. The law establishes goals for setting aside units in these projects, with 86.5% of the units for elderly (people over age 60) and 13.5% for people with disabilities.
If the percentage of elderly households in a development is below 86.5%, the PHA must select elderly applicants from its waiting list until the goal is reached. If there are no elderly applicants, then the authority must select “near elderly” applicants, ages 50-59, in the interim. If no near elderly are on the list, authorities select non-elderly applicants with a disability. If the percentage of non-elderly people with a disability is below 13.5%, then the authority must give half of its openings to such applicants until it reaches the goal (the other half going to elderly people). The law forbids evicting any lawful residents in order to reach the goal (Mass. Gen. Law Ann. Ch 121B § 39).
The law also provides funds for (1) on-site coordinators to help both groups resolve problems and better access services, (2) rent subsidies to help people with disabilities afford privately owned accessible units, and (3) a statewide registry of accessible units to help people find housing (Mass. Gen. Law Ann. Ch 121B § 39).
ELDERLY ONLY HOUSING
With HUD's approval, Connecticut PHAs may convert a property that is subsidized with federal, but not state, funds to elderly only (42 U.S.C. § 1437e). Initial approvals are effective for five years; subsequent renewals are effective for two. According to HUD, PHAs in the following Connecticut municipalities run federally subsidized elderly only housing developments: Bristol, Bridgeport, Greenwich, Manchester, Middletown, Milford, New Haven, Norwalk, Stratford, and Winchester.
To obtain approval, a PHA must submit an Elderly Only Designated Housing Plan to HUD justifying the need for such conversion. The application must comply with certain criteria and include, among other things, a project description; policies and procedures the PHA will use to convert to elderly only, including options for housing current non-elderly residents; and occupancy and data analysis. Application instructions may be found on HUD's website here and here.
CASE MANAGEMENT AND SUPPORT SERVICES
Comprehensive research on “best practices” for reducing tension between the elderly and individuals with disabilities residing together in publicly subsidized housing developments is limited. But anecdotal evidence suggests that improved case management for individuals with disabilities, including better coordination between mental health and social service agencies, may be an effective tool. PHAs, local and state agencies, and private providers commonly work together to determine need, access services, and manage cases.
In Connecticut, for example, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) partners with local nonprofit community service providers or Lead Mental Health Authorities (LMHAs) to increase access to services for individuals with disabilities. According to Barbara Geller, director of DMHAS' statewide services division, a PHA may call the department at 860-418-6813 for help connecting with the appropriate LMHA. In addition, the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) runs the Resident Service Coordinator (RSC) program under which it has provided 60 PHAs with grants to employ RSCs who primarily manage cases and mediate conflict (CGS § 8-114d). (The program currently has no funding for additional grants.)
PHAs in other states use similar techniques. Baltimore's Abell Foundation, which focuses on urban poverty in that city, issued a June 2006 report on how PHAs use case management and support services to address tensions in mixed population housing. Generally, the report concluded that the PHAs which are most effective in reducing these tensions are those that work closely with community-based mental health and social service providers to (1) develop a support services system and (2) improve the sense of community inside mixed population developments.
The report notes that in Knoxville, Tennessee, for example, a community development corporation sends case managers to visit public housing residents in their homes to help them find appropriate community services. The PHA in Portland, Oregon convened a committee that included housing officials, residents, police, church representatives, city agencies, and social service representatives to develop a plan for merging the two populations. Since then, the PHA has (1) improved staff training in mental health issues, including mediation; (2) placed full-time site managers, evening assistant managers, and counselors in buildings; (3) increased communications by more regular resident meetings, and (4) provided mediation training. Most of the mixed population developments also receive support from outside partners through an Adopt-a-Building program.
HUD Designated Housing Application instructions: