Housing | Mental Health America

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One of the biggest issues some people with mental illness face is the availability of housing. For many people, having a mental health condition has no impact on their housing. Most people can and do live independently in apartments or in their own homes. For others, the cascading effects of mental illness might leave them in a precarious housing situation, or even cause them to lose their homes. Having a safe and secure place to live is an important part of recovery, along with access to services that enable those with mental health conditions to live as independently as possible.


Having a mental health condition can make finding and keeping a home challenging. If you are poor, renting an apartment may be beyond your means. Affordable housing may be available, but located in unsafe or hard to reach places. You may be placed in a group home or apartment where there will be rules to follow and you will be living at close quarters with people you don't know. Your illness can interfere with your ability to comply with rules, keep your home up, get along with others or meet lease requirements. Nonetheless, there is cause for hope as you travel along your road to recovery. Although it may take some time to find yourself a home, the different types of housing described here can provide you with the services, support and affordability that you need at this time in your life. 

Affordable Housing

Temporary Housing

Permanent Housing

Keeping Your Home

Affordable Housing

A number of different kinds of affordable housing have been developed that might be available in your area. They are geared for people with mental illness and other disabilities, homeless people, low-income people and elderly people. Choices and waiting lists vary greatly depending on where you live. To find out what is available, you can talk to your community mental health agency, your local housing authority, social service agencies, and mental health or housing advocacy organizations.

Centers for Independent Living frequently provide housing referral assistance and advocacy for people with disabilities, including those with mental health conditions. You can find a virtual list of Centers for Independent Living at http://www.virtualcil.net/cils/

Temporary Housing

Each state has information on temporary housing, often through a bureau or office for housing or disability assistance. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has information on local homelessness assistance and help with preventing housing loss. Their portal-http://portal.hud.gov/portal/page/portal/HUD/topics/homelessness/localassist-can direct you to state specific resources.

Homeless Shelters provide emergency housing for adults or families with children. Operated by local governments, nonprofit organizations and churches, some shelters provide mental health counseling and other supports. Shelter residents usually have to be out of the shelter during the day, and may be required to look for employment.

SocialSecurityLaw.com has information on low cost and temporary housing resources by state. Their website directs you to shelters and describes the specific populations they serve and the additional resources they provide.

Some mental health agencies operate transitional housing programs for their clients as a bridge between homelessness and permanent housing. In such a program, you may be required to attend meetings and classes and follow rules to remain in the program.

Permanent Housing

Licensed care homes, assisted living facilities and nursing homes provide highly structured living for people with severe mental illness, disability or medical complications. With access to staff 24-hours a day and meals provided, residents usually pay most of their income except for a small allowance. While necessary for some, these institutions generally do not promote independence and recovery.

Group homes and other types of supportive housing combine housing and services in an enclosed and supportive setting. Participants in supportive housing share rooms or rent individual apartments in a location set aside for people who meet specific criteria. Some group homes or apartments, for example, may be set aside for those who are both homeless and have a mental health condition; while other locations might be available only for women with mental health conditions.

Supportive housing residents usually receive life skills or job training. They also tend to have access to 24-hour crisis support services, although these services may not be available onsite.

Supported housing services place people with mental health conditions in a variety of living arrangements where they may live among people who do not have mental illness. Thus, supported housing integrates people into the community. The degree of support residents receive while living in supportive housing can vary from frequent visits by a housing counselor to independent living with minimal support. While you live in supported housing, you may be required to attend group therapy sessions or see a psychiatrist. You may also receive help with transportation or supported education. Supported housing service will give you more choice and autonomy, but it may not offer the quick availability of services-you may have to go to another place, such as a mental health center or a drop-in center, to find those.

Consumers who are able to live independently and meet low-income guidelines qualify to live in many kinds of public housing. In these circumstances, you will usually live with other people eligible for the same type of housing. Your rent will generally be fixed at about one third of your income at the most.

Contact your local government or housing authority. You can locate your housing authority at the following link-http://www.affordablehousingonline.com/section8housing.asp. There are often waiting lists for public housing; if you're interested in living in public housing, you should apply to be on the wait list as soon as possible.

You may also be able to use a housing voucher under a federal program known as Section 8. Usually, this works two ways. If you receive a tenant-based voucher, you can use it to rent an apartment or home where you live. The voucher is portable, so you can continue to use it when you move to a new area. A project-based voucher is attached to a particular property. If you live in a unit with a project-based voucher and you move, the Section 8 stays with the property and the next tenant uses the voucher. Under either type of Section 8, work through your local housing authority to access housing.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a Public Housing Program aimed at helping low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities gain safe and decent housing. To be eligible you must provide information on your income, US citizenship or immigration status, and qualification as a person with a disability, an elderly person, or family member. To find out more information for this program, visit http://portal.hud.gov/portal/page/portal/HUD/topics/rental_assistance/phprog.

If you do qualify and obtain housing through the HUD, then it is their responsibility to maintain sanitary, decent, and safe conditions. They also have the responsibility to move families to different housing, reevaluate family's income at 12-month intervals, make sure leases are being followed, and set other charges.

Keeping Your Home

If you lose your job and medical bills begin to pile up or your mortgage payments escalate, you may be afraid that you will lose your home. There are many resources, however, available to help you.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides information on avoiding foreclosure athttp://portal.hud.gov/portal/page/portal/HUD/topics/avoiding_foreclosure. You can talk to a foreclosure avoidance counselor and get information on keeping your home. To learn more about your state's foreclosure laws visit http://www.foreclosurelaw.org/.

Hope Now-http://www.hopenow.com/-is an alliance with counselors, mortgage companies, and investors. Hope Now provides resources for their groups and tries to facilitate conversation between them.

Making Home Affordable.gov has information and help for eligible homeowners on refinancing a home and modifying mortgage payments. If your loan is with Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac then you can look up your loan and see if you can refinance or modify it. There is also information on other mortgage service providers at http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/contact_servicer.html.

Additional Resources

The National Housing Law Project is a law and advocacy center dedicated to helping low-income families get the justice they need with regards to housing. Their efforts are geared towards increasing the amount of and preserving the quality of affordable housing, improving current housing, expanding the rights of low-income tenants, and increasing opportunities for minorities. Their website,http://www.nhlp.org/, includes an attorney/advocacy resource center as well as support and help for tenants, homeowners, and the homeless.

500 Montgomery Street, Suite 820
 Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone (703) 684.7722

Toll Free (800) 969.6642

Fax (703) 684.5968

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