Stigma and Housing


by Kaitlin Brennan, Former staff member, Main Street Housing, Inc.

Much like many other facets of every-day life, stigma affects housing options. Shelter is a basic, universal need. Beyond protection from the elements, housing provides us with a sense of security, stability, and even identity. For individuals living with behavioral health issues, housing is especially important. Behavioral health services and resources are often based upon location. Stable housing not only allows an individual to build a home, but also allows him/her an opportunity to receive consistent, regular services from people they know and trust. However, this is not always the case. Individuals living with behavioral health issues face additional challenges in finding and maintaining quality housing options in their communities. The following are examples of how stigma affects persons living with behavioral health issues and housing:

  • Income – Income is a limiting factor for anyone attempting to rent or purchase a home. However, for consumers using disability income, type of income can become a huge barrier. Landlords and other housing agents often disregard applicants with disability income, even if they are within their financial requirements. Despite Fair Housing laws and legislation, there is still a great deal of stigma concerning both the amount and source of income.

  • “NIMBY”Residents and neighbors may be supportive of equal housing rights and access for individuals with disabilities, but just not in their neighborhoods. The “NIMBY” or “Not in my backyard” factor has a tremendous effect on housing options for individuals living with behavioral health issues. Residents and neighbors may have preconceived ideas about individuals with behavioral health issues and automatically assume it will negatively impact their neighborhood.

  • Disability Status – Not all individuals living with behavioral health issues are the same. Much like everything else, behavioral health exists on a continuum. How ever, often times, housing officials, landlords, and other agents are unaware of the broad spectrum that exists within the behavioral health realm and group all disabilities together. By doing so, assumptions concerning an individual’s ability to live an independent, healthy, and successful life can be made – thereby limiting housing options and resources.

  • Criminal Background – Just about every application contains a section that asks about criminal background. Landlords and other housing agents are especially concerned with criminal background, as they are ultimately concerned with protecting their properties. Individuals living with a behavioral health issue and a criminal background have an extremely difficult time getting quality housing. Despite the fact that criminal charges can often be the result of extenuating circumstances related to behavioral health, landlords and other housing agents can be hesitant, if not dismissive, when considering individuals with behavioral health issues.

  • Residential Treatment – Combining services with housing is a very common strategy in the behavioral health realm. While this may be efficient, it can also be restrictive and encourage stigma. The majority of residential treatment centers have strict requirements about the type and amount of services an individual must receive. In order to keep his/her home, an individual must comply with these treatment requirements. Residential treatment can often be more about compliance than an individual’s capabilities.