There are an estimated 36.4 million people with disabilities in the United States, and 108,500 people with disabilities in the State of Delaware.
An additional approximately 4,600 people in Delaware live in nursing facilities and are excluded from these numbers, though many likely have disabilities. In Delaware, 11% of adults aged 18-64 and 31% of adults over 65 have a disability. As the population ages – with 30% of Delaware’s population projected to be over 60 by 2040 – the number of Delawareans with disabilities will only increase
People with disabilities typically have lower incomes than those with no disabilities, are far more likely to be in poverty, and are more likely to need housing assistance. People with severe disabilities that interfere with their ability to work or with activities of daily or independent living are even more likely to be in poverty, an estimated 26% compared to 17% of all people with disabilities and 10% of people with no disabilities. An estimate for Delaware produced for the report Community and Choice, suggests there are likely at least 4,600 non elderly very low income renter households with both disabilities and severe housing needs in Delaware – households in need of rental assistance.
The need for accessible, affordable housing is a major barrier to people with disabilities living in the community, and housing needs severely limit the options of people with disabilities to live in the least restrictive setting of their choice. In the mid-2000s, the Housing Sub-committee of the Governor’s Commission on Community Based Alternatives for People with Disabilities developed a strategic plan (one part of the overall strategic plan of the Commission) to improve affordable housing opportunities for persons with disabilities and remove this major hurdle to independent living and a community based model of care. The lack of clear, reliable data on the scope of housing needs among people with disabilities in Delaware was a challenge even then.
Despite several steps forward and new information, the state’s housing and disability communities have still struggled with the need to better understand the scope and nature of the housing needs of people with disabilities in Delaware in order to provide appropriate responses. With multiple unique sub populations, each with distinctive needs and their own network of service providers, advocates, and data sources, simply assembling the information that is available into a coherent whole is itself demanding.
To revisit this topic, the Housing Sub-Committee and the Delaware Housing Coalition joined together to make use of a renewed and enhanced sub-committee to serve as a working group, which held its first meeting in February 2011. The Housing Sub-Committee’s leadership worked to ensure participation, encourage wide collaboration in the work, and provide guidance and insight.
Delaware Housing Coalition facilitated the study and implemented the work plan (data gathering, research, analysis, report). Through the working group model, the sub-committee collected data, conducted focus groups and interviews, collectively reviewed research products, and discussed and refined the study’s recommendations. The Delaware State Housing Authority (DSHA) provided assistance with data collection, research and analysis. The various divisions of the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) provided data, input and feedback on the report.
To improve the availability of affordable and accessible housing for people with disabilities in Delaware, the working group offered four broad recommendations:
- Accessibility: Increase the availability of and access to rental and homeownership opportunities with accessibility features;
- Affordability: Increase the availability of and access to affordable housing for people with disabilities;
- Community: Build a community-based system of care with a range of housing options; and
- Systems: Improve the affordable housing and disabilities services systems that serve people with disabilities.
As Delaware’s housing and disabilities services systems work to prioritize community care and settings for people with disabilities, we should be able to serve more people, better, with fewer resources – hopefully allowing these systems to begin to absorb the natural increases in people needing assistance. However, many different pieces must come together for successful transitions to community care to work, at the individual, agency, and system levels.