ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Effects of the Affordable Housing Shortage

Jack Bragen
Friday August 12, 2016 - 04:56:00 PM

Affordable and/or subsidized housing, a unit affordable to a person living on Social Security and/or SSI, is an equally important factor in determining the outcome of a mentally ill person as is "compliance" with treatment. In the absence of a decent, safe, affordable, clean, comfortable dwelling, it is improbable that someone with mental illness will get well. Feeling that we are in safe surroundings, an environment in which there is calm, quiet and comfort, and in which there is liberty to do as we please, is a critical factor in our recovery.  

On the other hand, if your housing consists of a bed at the county jail, recovery won't happen, treatment or no treatment. We need peace and quiet and we need comfort. Neither exists at a locked facility, whether this is jail or a state or county psychiatric hospital.  

A number of adult and even middle aged persons with mental illness continue to live with parents. If parents are okay with this and if the situation is livable, that seems fine. (I would have done so had it been an option. However, when I was in my early twenties, my parents wanted me out.)  

A source of folly for some persons with mental illness is to rent a unit that we can't financially afford, in the belief that we will be able to get a job and pay for it. Even if we already have a job and have good income, it might be a good practice to only rent a unit that we can pay for with government benefits. This is because, if there is a relapse, which is a thing to which many mentally ill people are subject, we may be unable to work for an extended time. Losing housing is then the result, unless the unit is affordable in the absence of working.  

In the latter part of the 1980's, when I first moved into a HUD unit, (which was actually the second and last time I moved away from parents--the first time having been at age eighteen) I was able to support myself with a part time job and I was not yet officially disabled, even though I had first been diagnosed several years beforehand. I was able to keep my housing through a relapse. I had applied for Social Security benefits prior to the relapse and the benefits came through at about the time I was hospitalized. It was stroke of good luck. When I was released from the hospital, a retroactive check was waiting for me in the mail.  

People with psychiatric disabilities are probably less able to get along with a roommate, and we need a place to call our own. Having a roommate in today's housing market also isn't good enough to make housing affordable. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a room in a house or an apartment usually isn't affordable to someone living on SSI. This is unless the house or apartment building is located in an impoverished, drug and vermin infested part of town.  

Institutional housing is not an unusual scenario for people with severe mental illness. This could mean a board and care, or it could mean other situations that lack privacy and that have excessive restrictions. This is miserable.  

In past years, when housing was relatively easy to obtain and when it was more affordable, I tried out a number of housing situations. I didn't remain at the initial HUD subsidized apartment. At the time, it was badly run, and there was crime among tenants and their guests. Furthermore, I was assaulted, and I lived next door to my brother. I wanted to get some distance from there. I relocated several times over a period of about twenty years.  

The affordable housing crisis is apparently far worse for disabled people than it is for people who have jobs. This assessment is based on my situation and those of others with whom I have come into contact. Also, as a final note, a good credit rating is critical in order to get into good housing--or to do anything in modern times. Guard your credit rating.