Affordable Housing 101

How do we provide housing for those with special needs?

Some members of your community have needs that go beyond shelter. Community members with such special needs may include people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, as well as those who have left other systems of care without a place to live, such as young people aging out of foster care or people leaving jail or prison. Others, such as the elderly, may have chronic, disabling health conditions. Still others may suffer from mental illness, HIV/ AIDS, and/ or substance abuse issues. In addition, some people face substantial barriers to housing stability because of domestic violence or other trauma.

Different approaches have been used to meet the special needs of individuals and families. One option is to provide counseling and other services to families who live on their own. Another option is to bring individuals together to an affordable development that offers specialized services. This is known as supportive housing. Many communities have had success building and funding supportive housing- the combination of permanent, affordable housing with services such as education, job training, medical and psychiatric assistance- that help people with special needs live more stable, productive lives. Proponents of supportive housing point out that, despite higher up- front costs to provide supportive housing, it may be cost- effective for a society as a whole.

A study of more than 4,000 people with severe mental illness in New York City found that considerable cost savings result when these individuals are provided with stable, supportive housing as compared to leaving them stuck in the revolving door of high- cost crisis care, prisons, and emergency housing. Investing in a long- term solution can produce positive results for people with special needs and their communities.