Report Highlights Promising Practices and Challenges for PHAs Serving Seniors and People with Disabilities

A report published by the Urban Institute, “Meeting the Challenges: Serving Older Adults and People with Disabilities in Public Housing,” uses case studies of five public housing authorities (PHAs) to examine the steps PHAs are taking to provide enhanced services to older adults and people with disabilities. The report finds that service coordinators and partnerships with community organizations play a critical role in helping residents access services like transportation assistance, food assistance, and medical benefits. Though the identified PHAs are taking proactive steps to provide support services for older residents and residents with disabilities, insufficient funding has led to service gaps.

PHAs are playing an increasingly important role in helping house older adults and people with disabilities as the shortage of affordable housing for low-income households grows. In 2021, 20% of public housing residents were aged 62 or older and 25% were people with disabilities. These households are more likely to need additional supports and services to remain stably housed. The report includes case studies of five PHAs – in Denver, CO; Westbrook, ME; Kansas City, MO; Minneapolis, MN; and Pittsburgh, PA – that are implementing service delivery aimed at connecting older adults and people with disabilities with critical services.

The report finds that PHAs rely primarily on service coordinators to engage residents, understand their needs, and respond to these needs accordingly. A service coordinator in Denver, for example, identified high rates of sexually transmitted disease among residents and distributed condoms and education materials in response. Service coordinators also help residents access services and benefits. In Denver, again, the city agency administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) gave service coordinators access to its data platform so they could submit applications on behalf of residents. The PHA believes this led to higher uptake because residents were more likely to work with service coordinators they knew and trusted. Service coordinators also play a role in creating programming for residents, including recreational and fitness services and social activities.

PHAs also depend on community partnerships to implement certain services. Westbrook’s PHA, for example, has a partnership with the local university where students offer on-site dental services, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. The PHA in Minneapolis partners with three organizations to offer assisted living services and memory care for its residents.

While these PHAs have taken proactive roles in responding to the needs of their residents, several noted that current funding levels are not enough to support full-service delivery, leading to service gaps. Some of the PHAs are unable to staff service coordinators full-time, for example, so these coordinators typically respond to emerging challenges or emergencies rather than developing proactive solutions. Commonly reported service gaps include the inability to serve residents with behavioral health needs and residents with declining functional abilities who require more intensive personal care. The report recommends that federal agencies expand funding for PHA support services so that these programs can increase staffing and more fully respond to residents’ diverse needs.

Read the report at: