GAO Report Reveals Accessible Housing Needs

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report that was made at the direction of Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). The report examined HUD assistance for households with disabilities.

One level deeper: HUD assists an estimated 1.8 million households with physical, mental, or other disabilities, according to the 2019 American Housing Survey (AHS), the most recent survey at the time of the review. HUD primarily served these households through the Housing Choice Voucher, public housing, and Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) programs.

According to the 2019 AHS, most HUD-assisted households with a member using a mobility device (such as a wheelchair or walker) reported living in units with at least one accessibility feature (such as an entry-level bedroom and bathroom). However, more than 300,000 assisted households with a mobility device user reported living in units without any accessibility features.

The report finds that fully accessible units are rare because the majority of rental units in the U.S pre-date certain accessible design and construction requirements, and some of these older units have structural constraints that prevent their modification such as widening doorways or eliminating steps in a unit.

One takeaway: Providers of HUD-assisted housing are required to provide reasonable accommodations such as structural modifications to allow households with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in HUD rental assistance programs. Public housing and Project-Based Rental Assistance providers are responsible for making and paying for structural modifications requested by tenants (or providing other reasonable accommodations instead). Under the Fair Housing Act, private landlords accepting Housing Choice Vouchers must allow tenants to make reasonable structural modifications to the premises, but may require the tenant to pay for the modification or place some funds in escrow to undo the modification once they move out.

Housing providers also must use strategies, such as waitlist priorities, to match households with disabilities with units that meet their needs.