RD192 - Assessment of Virginia’s Disability Services System: Housing

Executive Summary:

The Commonwealth of Virginia has made significant progress in improving the living situations of people with developmental disabilities in recent years. Fewer people with developmental disabilities reside in large segregated facilities today than did in the recent past (see Table 1). More people with developmental disabilities who are eligible for Medicaid Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) live independently in their own homes or apartments. Access to federal rental assistance has been increased and streamlined for people with developmental disabilities in many regions of the Commonwealth.

Despite this progress, people with disabilities continue to face multiple barriers to accessing independent housing options including affordability, discrimination, and physical accessibility (see Table 1). Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which many people with disabilities rely on as their sole or primary source of income, has not kept pace with the rapidly rising costs of rental housing. Data on the rates of housing discrimination against people with disabilities is insufficient to identify clear trends, but available evidence suggests that housing discrimination, both overt and subtle, continues to limit the housing options available to people with disabilities. Likewise, there is limited data on the available stock of accessible housing units, as well as on the rates of compliance with fair housing accessibility requirements among newly constructed rental housing. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that there is more work to be done to ensure that Virginia’s housing stock meets the growing demand for accessible housing.

Current demographic and housing trends threaten to increasingly strain housing resources for people with disabilities and other housing disadvantaged groups in the years ahead. An aging population, an increasing number of individuals with developmental disabilities residing with aging caregivers, and an ever greater percentage of individuals with developmental disabilities living in the community rather than in institutions suggest that demand for affordable, accessible housing will only continue to grow. There are several areas where additional data and research are needed to adequately address the independent housing needs of people with disabilities in the Commonwealth. More data and research are needed, for example, about the rates of discrimination experienced by people with disabilities and other similarly housing challenged individuals in the housing market. More data is needed about the accessibility of Virginia’s housing stock, particularly about the levels of compliance with existing housing accessibility standards by newly constructed apartment buildings. Additional research about the effectiveness of local housing policies aimed at promoting affordable housing development would also be helpful. And finally, additional research into the combined effects of housing and transportation costs, particularly in Virginia’s rural regions, would be helpful in understanding the true housing affordability challenges of Virginians with disabilities in these regions. Additional research will also be needed to assess the impact of Virginia’s efforts to address the independent housing needs of individuals with developmental disabilities that are in their infancy. Virginia’s new Medicaid Waiver-funded Shared Living benefit, for instance, has yet to be fully implemented as of the writing of this Assessment, and Virginia’s overall efforts to redesign its services system in a way that will support more individuals with developmental disabilities in their own homes continue to unfold. The results of these changes will not be able to be adequately assessed for several years to come.

The Virginia Board for People with Disabilities offers eighteen recommendations to improve the availability of affordable, accessible, independent housing options to individuals with disabilities in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While the primary purpose of this Assessment is to inform state-level policymakers, many of the policy and enforcement decisions that affect housing are made at the local and regional level. It is important that local decision makers also receive input from their affected constituents, including people with disabilities and the elderly, about their housing needs. The Board’s eighteen recommendations are grouped into three main goals:

1. Expand access to affordable independent living options for people with developmental disabilities in Virginia

a. Increase funding for Virginia’s State Rental Assistance Program in accordance with Virginia’s plan to increase independent living options (as updated in January 2017)

b. Continue to work with local housing authorities to set aside Housing Choice Vouchers for individuals in the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement population and encourage housing agencies that have not agreed to a set aside to do so

c. Review local zoning laws to ensure that they do not present unnecessary barriers to the development of affordable housing options

d. Explicitly empower local governments to promote affordable housing in their jurisdictions through the enactment of affordable housing ordinances, such as inclusionary zoning and density bonus ordinances

e. Enhance public education efforts related to independent housing options for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including education about the availability of housing resources and the processes of accessing and navigating those resources

f. Increase the representation of individuals with disabilities and agencies that serve individuals with disabilities on local housing planning bodies

g. Enhance cross-secretariat and agency collaboration to identify opportunities to access additional federal and state resources to expand access to accessible affordable housing

2. Vigorously enforce Virginia’s Fair Housing Laws

a. Initiate a statewide Fair Housing testing program in Virginia to collect data on the frequency of fair housing violations and publish this data for use by researchers and housing professionals

b. Expand education and outreach to individuals with developmental disabilities to inform them about their fair housing rights and the process for filing fair housing complaints

c. Continue to educate building professionals, property managers, and other housing professionals about fair housing laws and accessibility requirements

d. Prohibit discrimination against a potential tenant solely on the basis of the tenant’s source of income

e. Enact local fair housing ordinances in local jurisdictions that do not already have existing fair housing ordinances, and enforce fair housing at the local level

3. Adopt state and local policies and practices that encourage accessible development and hold violators of accessibility requirements accountable

a. Vigorously enforce new construction accessibility requirements at the local level

b. Adopt local accessibility incentives in localities where they do not already exist, such as permit discounts for qualifying homes

c. Strengthen accessibility incentives built into Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP)

d. Expand access to home modification assistance and increase the home modification benefit limit in the DD Medicaid Waivers

e. Increase the Livable Home Tax Credit funding limit from $1 million dollars to $2 million

f. Increase education and outreach to home builders about how to affordably incorporate accessible features into housing designs