Lately, I have found that unusual conversations are occurring in unexpected places. For example, the Community Affairs staff at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston hosted a roundtable event this week on “Financing Disability Housing in New England”. The event brought together a wide variety of organizations from five different states, ranging from social service organizations and CDFIs to bankers to discuss a subject that receives far too little attention from community development practitioners: “How can we scale the current models for financing housing for the disabled in New England?”. I should point out; this round table is part of a series that have been hosted by Federal Reserve Banks around the country. The Boston event was the most recent one.
While this may sound like an esoteric subject, it in fact raises important issues that we as a society have failed to confront. In a piece prepared for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, entitled “The Disability Housing Market: Opportunity for Community Development Finance as the Americans with Disabilities Act Turns 20”, Charles D. Hammerman of The Disability Opportunity Fund and Samantha Bennett of the Center for Wealth Preservation note that “In 2006, there were more than 21 million people between 18 and 65 in the United States with one or more disabilities.” Moreover, people with disabilities have among the highest poverty rates.
What I find particularly compelling is the sheer number of disabled individuals who will need housing in the not too distant future. For example, according to official studies, there are between 1 and 1.2 million Americans who have been diagnosed with some form of Autism and 80% of these individuals are below the age of 22. Some 800,000 of these young people will need to be housed in the near future. Hammerman and Bennett pinpoint the problem in their article, explaining that “Although there is no coherent approach to providing housing, the demand for it is strong. There are more than 41 million noninstitutionalized Americans living with some form of disability. More than 23 million are between the ages of 18 and 65. It is the inadequate supply that has ultimately hindered those with disabilities from attaining housing.”
As a long time consultant in the community development field this would seem to be a natural fit for community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that finance affordable housing for low and moderate income individuals. But much to my surprise there are relatively few CDFIs that focus on the housing needs of the disabled.
One relatively new organization in the space is The Disability Opportunity Fund, with a mission to increase the amount of quality, affordable, and suitable housing for people with disabilities. DOF founder, Charles Hammerman, has put out a clarion call to the CDFI industry about the growing need for housing among
This week’s Americans with disabilities roundtable at the Boston Fed and others across the country are highlighting a critical housing need in this country and one for which we need scalable financing solutions. It also showcased a number of promising approaches from around New England. I hope CDFIs, banks and other private and public sector players will consider developing such models into larger programs to address this pressing need.
The Federal Reserve System might seem like an unlikely partner in this effort but as a convener and a research organization – the Fed has an amazing ability to bring together parties who serve disabled people but often times do not coordinate or collaborate to support this population. What was uplifting about this roundtable was the level of expertise and the range of participants in the room, including CDFIs, social service providers, bankers, advocates, federal, state and local agencies.
The disabled community is an incredibly diverse population with a wide range of needs for housing and accompanying support services. This event and others like it around the country have started a critical dialogue that we need to continue, particularly in the community development field. I applaud the Federal Reserve’s effort and look forward to more of these convenings in the future.
– Vicky Stein, Mission Markets Director of Community Investments