Report: Oregonians with intellectual disabilities are at growing risk of homelessness

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Oct. 3, 2020 4:46 p.m.

A new report from ECONorthwest finds people with intellectual and developmental disabilities face housing instability — but researchers say there’s a serious lack of data about the population.

A study suggests a growing risk of homelessness for Oregonians with intellectual disabilities, as government support fails to keep pace with rising housing costs for a population that often needs support. The report written by ECONorthwest and commissioned by the Kuni Foundation also found that efforts to document and address these challenges have been stymied for years by a lack of current data on the disabled population.

The report estimates that “around 24,000 adults with IDD [intellectual and developmental disabilities] in the region face housing insecurity.” But the report’s authors concede that it’s impossible to find reliable numbers on the number of people in Oregon and southwest Washington who have such disabilities and their housing situations. Researchers have long relied on a 2001 study called “Prevalence of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities: Estimates From the 1994/1995 National Health Interview Survey Disability Supplements." But the data in that study is a quarter century old.


Within those data constraints, the ECONorthwest report paints a grim picture. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities tend to live in one of three situations: institutional settings, with older family members, or with roommates.

“However, the region’s housing affordability crisis and national demographic trends pose risks for individuals living in two of these three settings,” the report said — referring to the two more independent living situations with family or roommates.

Nailing down precise numbers on how many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at risk of becoming homeless proved tricky, however, given the data limitations. ECONorthwest borrowed methodology from a University of Colorado study to look at two big factors: the relative high cost of rent and the unsustainability of living with older family members.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities often rely on supplemental security income, or SSI, to pay their bills, but the report found those monthly payments are not enough to cover housing and other costs in the region. The payment level in Oregon, $783 per month, falls short of the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the Portland area. Across the river in Washington, the supplemental security income level was just above average rental costs, “but would leave little remaining for other basic necessities,” the report concludes.


The report points out that rental costs are only growing further out of reach for people reliant on supplemental security income.

“Over the past two decades, average nominal monthly rents in the Portland metro area grew 83 percent, while nominal monthly SSI payments grew only 50 percent,” the report said, citing data from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Services.

Borrowing from the Colorado study’s methodology, ECONorthwest counted about 6,600 adults in Oregon and southwest Washington with intellectual or developmental disabilities who were “cost-burdened,” or spending more than 30% of their income on rent.

The number of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at risk of losing their homes based on potentially losing an aging caregiver was almost three times as high, according to the report.

The ECONorthwest report suggests nearly 18,000 adults in Oregon and southwest Washington are “at risk of housing instability, given the chance of the caregiver developing an incapacitating illness or dying in the next 8-10 years.”

The report also complained of a lack of coordination between housing services and providers of supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The report’s recommendations include a push for better alignment between various support efforts. It also called for increased funding for affordable housing, and particularly called to “elevate the needs of adults with IDD when allocating scarce housing resources.” And, given the challenges spelled out in the report when it comes to understanding the challenges facing the intellectual and developmental disabilities population, the report repeated those concerns in pushing for better data and data collection.

The new ECONorthwest study is far from the first to shine a light on the absence of data about people with intellectual disabilities — that’s been a criticism from researchers as well as international aid groups, basically since the last time reliable data was collected, 25 years ago.