NAMI’s Position (Summarized from the NAMI Policy Platform)
NAMI supports increasing access to permanent housing and appropriate supports and services that allow persons with serious mental illnesses (or brain disorders) to live in the community. These permanent housing resources include HUD programs such as Section 811 and Shelter Plus Care as well as tenant-based rental assistance linked to the emerging "elderly only" housing designation crisis. NAMI believes that the widely recognized failure of "deinstitutionalization" in recent decades is due in large part to the failure of states and communities to invest in housing and supports for people with severe mental illnesses.
NAMI supports efforts to link supports and services to housing specifically for adults with severe and disabling brain disorders. Where linked to housing, such services should be flexible and based on an individualized plan with meaningful consumer and family input. This housing approach also reduces isolation experienced by many adults with severe and disabling brain disorders. NAMI opposes efforts to weaken protections under the Fair Housing Act for people with severe mental illnesses in group homes and community residences. These proposals to weaken the Fair Housing Act would significantly scale back provisions in the law that bar discriminatory zoning and land-use policies intended to exclude group homes from residential communities. These are policies typically implemented in response to NIMBY, or community opposition to group homes.
Understanding the Issue
Access to decent, safe, and affordable housing remains a tremendous challenge for adults with severe mental illnesses. Unfortunately, in virtually every part of the United States people with severe mental illnesses struggle to find good-quality housing they can afford. Many people with the most severe and disabling mental illnesses also need access to appropriate services and supports so that they can successfully live in community-based housing, which promotes their independence and dignity. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and many state and local agencies responsible for administering our nation's affordable-housing system do little to alleviate this struggle to access community-based housing and supports. Historically HUD has made little effort to understand the real implications and bitter reality of recent federal housing policies, policies that have reduced the federally subsidized housing units available to people with severe mental illnesses and other disabilities.
Current housing policies were enacted by Congress in 1992 and 1996 to permit public and assisted-housing providers to designate housing as "elderly only." People with disabilities and their advocates understand that Congress must replace the hundreds of thousands of units of federally subsidized housing no longer available to people with disabilities, including people with severe mental illnesses. Unfortunately, HUD has also failed to preserve and adequately fund the Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program, which was designed to provide housing and supports to people with severe disabilities. But for the efforts of a few leaders in Congress, an increasing number of adults with severe mental illnesses would continue to live at home with aging parents or in substandard housing. Without additional resources, too many adults with severe mental illnesses will likely end up homeless or remain unnecessarily in inappropriate settings (e.g., homeless shelters and local jails and prisons).
The bitter irony of this loss of housing is that it comes when people with all types of disabilities (including severe mental illnesses) are increasingly able to live successfully in homes of their own—but only if independent housing is affordable and paired with appropriate supports and services. According to a 1999 HUD report, nearly 40 percent of the nation’s homeless are single adults with severe mental illnesses. In addition, Priced Out in 1998: The Housing Crisis for People with Disabilities (which NAMI helped write) reports that SSI income is less than 23 percent of median income nationally and that the average rent for a modest, one-bedroom apartment would take 69 percent of a person's monthly SSI check.
These homeless and income numbers clearly demonstrate that people with disabilities (including severe mental illnesses) have the "worst" of the "worst case needs" and that their needs cannot be ignored by Congress, HUD, or state and local governments. While funding for tenant-based vouchers are helpful to many very low-income individuals with mental illnesses, new housing to serve people at the bottom of the economic ladder is also needed.
NAMI therefore supports efforts underway in Congress to establish a new, federal, flexible housing-production program for households at 30 percent of median income and below. In addition, proposals to restrict enforcement of the Fair Housing Act could make it more difficult to combat the "NIMBYism" that results from stigma and discrimination faced by group homes and other shared community-based housing.
Even though finding decent, safe, and affordable housing with adequate and appropriate supports remains daunting for so many consumers and families, some progress has been made in recent years. Since 1997, NAMI worked closely with allies in Congress, including Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), to add more than $210 million to the HUD budget for tenant-based rental assistance for people with disabilities who have been (and will be) adversely affected by "elderly only" public and assisted housing designation. (Adults with severe mental illnesses are especially vulnerable in the "elderly only" housing designation process because of the stigma associated with their illnesses).
In 2000, Congress also maintained funding for homeless-assistance programs under the McKinney-Vento Act at $1.02 billion and established a new $90-million account to ensure that all expiring rent subsidies under the Shelter Plus Care program are renewed in future years. Shelter Plus Care (part of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act) is a critical resource for helping states and communities fund permanent housing and supportive services for homeless individuals with severe mental illnesses. This new account at HUD will ensure that formerly homeless tenants in Shelter Plus Care housing will not be at risk of losing their housing. In addition to the new account at HUD for Shelter Plus Care renewals, Congress continued for 2001 the requirement for a minimum 30 percent of funds to go toward developing permanent housing (and a 25 percent match requirement for communities using funds for services).
NAMI supports both a reliable, long-term source of funds for Shelter Plus Care renewals and the 30-percent permanent housing set-aside, believing they are critical for ending homelessness instead of institutionalizing a homeless services system. NAMI supports HUD programs that finance permanent housing and public mental heath programs that fund supportive services to assist formerly homeless tenants in these settings.
Finally, NAMI continues to work with allies in the disability community to oppose legislative proposals intended to scale back the existing protections in the Fair Housing Act that bar discriminatory zoning and the land-use policies that restrict placement of group homes and shared living arrangements in the community.
NAMI's Advocacy Goals and Strategies
NAMI supports efforts to increase funding for the HUD Section 811 program (above its current $217-million level) and to maintain the integrity of the capital-advance and project-based rental-assistance portion of the program (maintaining the existing 75 percent threshold). Specifically, NAMI supports increasing Section 811 to $346 million, restoring the program to its level in the final year of the last Bush Administration. For the 25 percent of the Section 811 program that HUD directs to tenant-based rental assistance, NAMI supports congressional efforts to ensure that HUD allows only non-profit disability organizations to be eligible to compete to administer local tenant-based subsidies.
NAMI supports continued funding for a separate allocation of tenant-based rental assistance for non-elderly people with disabilities adversely affected by the designation of public and assisted housing as "elderly only." (Congress has allocated over $210 million for this purpose since 1996).
NAMI supports increased funding for federal homeless-assistance programs and continued implementation of a minimum threshold for permanent housing programs for homeless adults with severe mental illness (e.g., Shelter Plus Care, Emergency Shelter Grants, Moderate Rehab SRO). NAMI supports efforts in Congress to continue renewal of all expiring Shelter Plus Care rent subsidies through the new renewal account enacted by Congress in 2000.
NAMI supports congressional action to authorize a new federal housing production program to serve households at 30 percent of median income and below, with specific targeting of individuals for whom tenant-based rental vouchers have proven ineffective for securing stable housing.
NAMI opposes efforts to erode standards in the Fair Housing Act that protect group homes and other shared-living arrangements in the community from discriminatory zoning and land use policies.
For more information about NAMI’s activities on this issue, please contact Andrew Sperling at 703/516-7222. All media representatives, please call NAMI’s communications staff at 703/516-7963.