Point of View

Housing on the line for those in need

Looming policy changes and budget gaps at both the state and federal level may undercut the continued stability of CASA’s tenants, making success stories for North Carolinians with disabilities less likely.

December 27, 2012 

Amanda had been homeless her entire adult life, living most recently in a tent in the woods near Carrboro. In May, with the help of federal rental assistance for people with disabilities, Amanda moved into one of CASA’s one-bedroom apartments in Chapel Hill.

She has been a responsible tenant ever since. Of having her own home, Amanda says: “I can lock my door; that’s a very big deal.”

Jeremy recently came to CASA’s office to give us his 30-day notice that he was moving out. A formerly homeless tenant with a severe mental illness, Jeremy had come to CASA seven years ago from the street. The impact of stable, safe and affordable housing on Jeremy was profound; his talents and determination landed him a job at a Raleigh restaurant and, thanks to rental assistance, he was able to save for his goal of buying his own place.

Over the past 20 years, CASA has developed and now manages nearly 300 apartments throughout the Triangle. More than 1,000 people with disabilities have found affordable, permanent housing through our efforts. Moreover these tenants, like Amanda and Jeremy, are building successful lives and contributing to their communities.

Looming policy changes and budget gaps at both the state and federal level may undercut the continued stability of CASA’s tenants, making success stories for North Carolinians with disabilities less likely.

A recent change to state Medicaid funding means that thousands of persons with disabilities living in group or adult care homes are going to have to find new housing quickly. Unfortunately, affordable supportive housing is hard to come by and this change could leave thousands of persons with disabilities and histories of institutionalization without shelter.

As this unfolds at the state level, the federal “fiscal cliff” threatens to sharply reduce CASA’s ability to keep our existing communities solvent and create more affordable apartments. CASA uses a variety of federal, state and local funding sources to develop and manage housing that is affordable to people with disabilities who have very low incomes.

Our tenants pay 30 percent of their income toward rent – typically less than $200 per month. In many properties, federal or local rental assistance helps to make up the gap between what tenants can afford and what CASA needs to operate the property.

At the federal level, if Congress and the administration don’t negotiate a new deficit deal before Tuesday, the budgets for housing and rental assistance programs will be slashed across the board without regard to priorities like helping the elderly or those with disabilities.

We have plans to develop three new apartment communities over the next two years to serve homeless veterans. These vets deserve our continued support.

There has never been a more important time to lay aside political differences and seek a common good that protects the housing of those most in need. Contact your elected officials and ask them for solutions.

Homelessness is a lose-lose scenario for all of us. The cost of supportive rental housing is a fraction of the cost of homelessness. Emergency shelters alone costs the taxpayer $8,000 more a year per person than a rent subsidy.

With a small amount of rental assistance and low rent, our residents have the dignity and independence of having their own apartment. Furthermore, affordable housing allows tenants to contribute to their community as an employee, volunteer and neighbor. Our tenants aren’t asking to be taken care of; they are asking for the opportunity to take care of themselves.

Jess Brandes is housing developer and Debra King is CEO of CASA, a nonprofit community development organization that provides housing for people challenged by disabilities or financial need.

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