Comment: Those with disabilities need housing benefit help

People with developmental disabilities often qualify for housing aid, but the process can be daunting.

By Pam Blanton / For The Herald

Housing is the foundation for a good life. Yet for many people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD), the path toward home is anything but clear.

Our state is home to more than 48,000 adults with IDD; 70 percent of them live at home with family caregivers, according to a recent report on IDD housing needs in our state, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services and ECONorthwest. As these family caregivers age and can no longer care for their family members at home, thousands of Washington residents with IDD will need to find a new place to live. And many adults with IDD want to — and deserve to — experience life outside their family home, but they need a plan.

Complicating the issue, just 57 percent of these adults receive any benefits from our state’s Developmental Disabilities Association – not because they don’t qualify, but because families face huge challenges navigating the benefits silos and understanding what benefits their loved one is eligible for, including Social Security, disability benefits, food benefits, and Section 8 housing subsidies.

Securing the right benefits can make or break a housing plan. Yet barely half of the adults with IDD in our state are able to get access to those benefits. King County and the greater Seattle are home to close to 6,500 adults with IDD — many currently going without the benefits they’re entitled to — who face potential housing insecurity now or in the coming years.

As founder and chief executive of Partners4Housing, I work with families every day who deal with these challenges. They understand the pressing need to help their loved ones live a safe, fulfilling life. They also know their loved ones, like all people with IDD, deserve the dignity of choice, with a voice in deciding where they live, who they live with, and how their lives are structured. At Partners4Housing, we’ve helped families create 50 Shared Living homes, serving 115 people with IDD in the Puget Sound region.

It’s so rewarding to watch these adults thrive, and to know their parents have peace of mind.

Many people I talk to are surprised to learn our state ranks 39th in the nation for services available to people with IDD. Thankfully, our state is making some progress on this. The state Legislature passed House Bill 2008 in 2022, which brings our state more in line with national definitions of IDD, helping more people who may have been denied benefits in the past.

They are also making funding available to address this huge need. We are grateful to have received a grant from the Dan Thompson Memorial Fund to offer our residential assessment at no cost to more than 6,000 families in Washington state. These funds will let us guide families through applying for benefits, signing up for Section 8 voucher wait lists and even finding compatible families and roommates.

The people of Washington state can solve the growing challenge of housing for people with IDD. It will take awareness, cooperation and action from state legislators, community organizations, innovative housing developers, social enterprise businesses, and individual families adding their voices.

Working together, we can help families get access to person-centered solutions for their loved ones and create a more secure housing future.

Pam Blanton is the founder and chief executive of Partners4Housing, a Woodinville-based organization that works with families of adults with IDD who are struggling to understand their options, get the full benefits their loved one is entitled to, find the right roommates and family partners, and secure the right housing. Her career has spanned 30 years in special needs housing, and she is an acknowledged expert in her field and a Friends of Housing Award Honoree.

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