Safe & Affordable Housing in NC

Having a safe and affordable place to live is vital to health, wellness, and, quality of life. Stable housing provides the foundation for each of us to learn, live, work, and play in our communities. Often, people need help to select, obtain, and keep homes of their own. Permanent Supportive Housing programs pair supportive services and affordability to make housing accessible and sustainable for everyone.

In North Carolina, a lack of both affordable housing and appropriate services has led to many people with disabilities living in facilities rather than homes of their choosing. Specifically, the widespread placement of people with SPMI (Severe and Persistent Mental Illness) in ACH’s (Adult Care Homes) was determined to be in violation of the 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead decision. The decision states that public entities must provide community-based services to people with disabilities.

As a result of this Olmstead violation, the state of NC has entered into a settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice. In addition to employment supports requirements, the state must provide Permanent Supportive Housing to 3,000 individuals with SPMI by July 2021. The Transition to Community Living Initiative (TCLI) is using a variety of strategies around housing and supportive services to meet this obligation. As of August 2018, 1580, individuals are currently living in Supportive Housing. 894 of these individuals were previously living in Adult Care Homes, and the remaining were in State Psychiatric Hospitals or at risk of ACH placement.

TCLI represents a small portion of a much larger group of North Carolinians the state has an obligation to under Olmstead. The state must use TCLI as an opportunity for lasting change of our housing and supports systems to ensure that all people are able to access community living. Some of the successes of the TCLI program that can be built on statewide are; utilization of Targeted Housing units, expanding the TCLV (Transition to Community Living Voucher) to additional persons with disabilities, and continued and expanded support of the CDLF (Community Development Loan Fund).

The Targeted Housing program provides tax credits to housing developers in exchange for a commitment to designate 10-20% of their units for individuals with disabilities. The North Carolina Housing Finance Agency (NCHFA) administers Key Rental Subsidy as the primary source of affordability for these units. Supportive Services are coordinated through community provider agencies and the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Priority access to these units and subsidies is given to those in the TCLI program. Funding for the Key Rental subsidies is not sufficient to ensure that all Targeted Units are affordable to those who need them. Given the lack of housing statewide, the funds to ensure existing affordable housing is accessible to all persons with disabilities, who are protected by the Olmstead decision, is imperative.

The TCLV is a tenant-based rental subsidy for people who qualify for the settlement agreement and participate in TCLI. This subsidy differs from the Key Rental Subsidy in that it does not require people to live in a specific apartment complex or unit to access the funds. TCLV is the only state-wide, state funded rental subsidy specifically for persons with disabilities. The state has put a large amount of resource into the development of this system. TCLV’s success should be built upon, and not limited to the narrow population and time frame it has initially been designed for. Long after the current settlement agreement, North Carolina has an obligation to ensure people with disabilities have access to the communities of their choice.

Well managed and fully funded rental subsidies are necessary to move North Carolina towards inclusive housing opportunities for all being a reality. Development of additional housing stock must also occur. The TCLI program has developed successful mechanisms to assist in addressing the issue of development as well. Through adjustment of the requirements placed on housing developers who would like to access tax credits and participate in the Targeted Housing program, the NCHFA can direct future apartment development in a direction that meets the needs of people with disabilities in North Carolina. In addition to tax credit opportunities, the NCHFA has also developed a Community Development fund using monies from the TCLI program. There has been $13 million awarded to date, creating 127 units that are set aside for persons with disabilities for a 20-year term. This creative incentive to increase availability of appropriate housing opportunism should also be built upon, with additional state funds, to incentivize development in communities that are not otherwise meeting the needs of low incoming individuals with disabilities.

North Carolina is making substantial progress towards meeting the terms of the Department of Justice settlement agreement. Adult Care Homes are not the appropriate setting for North Carolinian’s with SPMI. People with SPMI, and other disabilities have a clear right to live in the communities of their choice. North Carolina must not only meet the settlement agreement, but exceed it and use this opportunity to solidify and expand upon the systems and resources being leveraged for the TCLI program.

Write-up by Deby Dihoff, Sara Grignon, and Margaret Gurling.