Public Policy: Housing and Employment
For individuals with mental illness, the basic supports of a stable home and a job can be hard to come by – this reality often leads to homelessness, jails, shelters, and hospitalizations. It can also compromise an individual’s stability, basic wellbeing, and recovery. Texas should build upon existing supportive housing programs, identify programming that addresses specific gaps in the housing continuum, and make a broader investment in employment programming for individuals with mental illness.
Invest in small group home model and other forms of permanent supportive housing
Texas can fill the housing and services gap for those with serious mental illness by supporting the establishment and operating costs of small group homes as an alternative to institutional care. The proposed model is similar to that which the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) population has had for decades – Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs) and small group homes for IDD. This model is permanent supportive housing with on-site services that can support either diversion from institutional settings such as state psychiatric hospitals, nursing facilities, and assisted living facilities and/or function as step-down options post-discharge from institutional settings.
Increase rental and utility assistance funding for people with mental illness
Individuals receiving public sector mental health services often need assistance with finding and securing a supportive living environment. An SSI check is rarely enough to cover rent, food, clothing, transportation, and other necessities. Without this support, their abilities to maintain stability, experience recovery, and avoid homelessness can be severely compromised. Through funding in past legislative sessions, the state has some short-term rental and utility assistance dollars for people who are homeless or imminently at risk of homelessness and receiving services at the Local Mental Health Authorities. However, this funding does not go far enough to meet the need for assistance. These funds often run dry before they can reach everyone in need. The state should increase its investment in its rental and utility assistance program for people with mental illness.
Expand public-private partnerships to address chronic homelessness
All too often, individuals with serious mental illness find themselves untreated and without a stable housing situation. Most people who experience chronic homelessness have a mental illness and often a co-occurring substance use disorder. Permanent supportive housing is proven to interrupt this cycle and reduce homeless shelter days, hospitalizations, and incarcerations. Individuals who experience chronic homelessness and who have a mental illness should be provided with immediate access to housing and support services. Using a public-private partnership model, the state’s Healthy Community Collaboratives program has successfully housed hundreds of individuals who experience chronic homelessness. The state should expand this funding and ensure that previously unfunded areas of the state can participate.
Invest in job training and supported employment for individuals with mental illness
Employment is one of the most important supports for mental health recovery, but adult Texans with mental illness experience high unemployment rates (85.6%). Texas should ensure that individuals with mental illness can engage in the workforce. Strategies to achieve this should include:
- hiring more vocational rehabilitation counselors who specialize in mental health
- investing in mental health Clubhouses
- developing specific strategies to improve mental health supported employment
86th Legislative Session Key Bills on Housing and Employment
Senate Bill 257 (Rodriguez)/House Bill 382 (Ortega) – Relating to the authority to establish a customer assistance program for certain municipally owned utilities.
Senate Bill 257 and House Bill 382 would require utility company boards of trustees to establish bill payment assistance programs for low-income customers at risk of losing service and who have exhausted other options.
Senate Bill 493 (Alvarado) – Relating to the allocation of housing tax credits to developments within proximate geographical areas.
Senate Bill 543 (Watson) – Relating to prohibiting the allocation of low income housing tax credits to certain applicants.
Senate Bill 544 (Watson) – Relating to the administration of federal funds under the Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act.
Senate Bill 545 (Watson) – Relating to the evaluation of applications for certain financial assistance administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
Senate Bill 546 (Watson) – Relating to the governance of public housing authorities.
House Bill 696 (Blanco) – Relating to employment and referral services for veterans and military service members.
House Bill 696 would create the “Operation Welcome Home” program to help expedite the entry of veterans into the workforce and provide access to education, technical training, and entrepreneurship programs. It would also establish the “Texas Veterans Leadership Program” to create referral and resource network for veterans in need services around employment, education and training, medical care, mental health and counseling, and veterans benefits.
House Bill 713 (Lucio III) – Relating to the employment of certain persons with disabilities.
House Bill 713 would provide employment preference in state agencies to individuals with disabilities who are eligible to receive supported employment (specific work accommodations) or create positions specifically for vocational rehabilitation services.
House Bill 809 (Thierry) – Relating to measures to assist students enrolled at public institutions of higher education who are homeless or who were formerly in foster care.
House Bill 809 would guarantee students experiencing homelessness priority access to student housing and would require higher education boards to designate a student liaison on higher education campuses to provide assistance and support to students who are experiencing homelessness.
House Bill 885 (Raney) – Relating to wage requirements for community rehabilitation programs participating in the purchasing from people with disabilities program.
House Bill 885 would require that individuals with disabilities in community rehabilitation programs receive the federal minimum wage for their work by 2021, and would require workforce commission to work with programs to develop plan and ensure compliance with wage increase.
House Bill 1215 (Collier) – Relating to the allocation of low income housing tax credits.
House Bill 1215 would permit Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to set requirements around educational quality accessible to a proposed low-income housing site, but prohibits the department from using a scoring points system for educational quality. (Can set minimum standard, but not a scale beyond that for educational quality of community.)
House Bill 1257 (Rosenthal) – Relating to the repeal of the prohibition against certain municipal or county regulation of the rental or leasing of housing accommodations.
House Bill 1257 would repeal a code that prohibits municipalities and counties from regulating rental properties to prohibit them from denying housing based on funding source (federal assistance housing program tenants). It would again allow counties to prohibit discrimination based on if a tenant is receiving housing assistance funds.
House Bill 1465 (Moody) – Relating to a study on expanding recovery housing in this state.
Testimony on Housing and Employment