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The subject of housing for persons with mental illness is a serious discussion within the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) and throughout the mental health community in Pennsylvania. Individuals with serious mental illness define safe, decent, affordable housing as critical in supporting their recovery; additionally, for numerous years the most pressing need identified by county mental health offices in the Annual County Mental Health Plan was adequate housing opportunities for consumers. In response OMHSAS convened a Housing Workgroup in April 2006, to formulate recommendations regarding the direction that the development of housing opportunities should take, in light of the need for affordable housing, and the move toward recovery oriented services. OMHSAS' Housing Initiative - Overview provides background on the office's efforts.

Supportive Housing

A Plan for Supporting Housing and Recovery-Oriented Services

In the fall of 2005 the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) unveiled a landmark document entitled A Call for Change: Toward a Recovery-Oriented Mental Health Service System for Adults. During that same time, the county mental health offices submitted their 2005/06 Plans to OMHSAS. A review of the plans revealed that for the second year in a row, the county offices identified housing as one of the greatest needs they face in serving persons with serious mental illness and co-occurring disorders. In response to this need, the OMHSAS Adult Advisory Committee formed a Housing Work Group to develop a set of principles, strategies and action plans for expanding housing with recovery-oriented services for consumers. The group was charged with developing a document that is consistent with the guiding principles set forth in A Call for Change and that can be used by OMHSAS and other commonwealth agencies to set priorities and target resources, and by the county mental health offices to address the housing needs of their consumers.

A Plan for Supporting Housing and Recovery-Oriented Services is the November 2006 report of the Housing Work Group. It addresses housing with recovery-oriented services for all adults with serious mental illness and co-occurring disorders.

Definition of Permanent Supportive Housing

Supportive housing is a successful, cost-effective combination of affordable housing with services that helps people live more stable, productive lives. Supportive housing works well for people who face the most complex challenges—individuals and families who have very low incomes and serious, persistent issues that may include substance use, mental illness, and HIV/AIDS; and may also be homeless, or at risk of homelessness.

A supportive housing unit is:

  • Available to, and intended for a person or family whose head of household is experiencing mental illness, other chronic health conditions including substance use issues, and/or multiple barriers to employment and housing stability; and my also be homeless or at risk of homelessness;
  • Where the tenant pays no more than 30%-50% of household income towards rent, and ideally no more than 30%;
  • Associated with a flexible array of comprehensive services, including medical and wellness, mental health, substance use management and recovery, vocational and employment, money management, coordinated support (case management), life skills, household establishment, and tenant advocacy;
  • Where use of services or programs is not a condition of ongoing tenancy;
  • Where the tenant has a lease or similar form of occupancy agreement and there are not limits on a person’s length of tenancy as long as they abide by the conditions of the lease or agreement; and
  • Where there is a working partnership that includes ongoing communication between supportive services providers, property owners or managers, and/or housing subsidy programs.

Supportive Housing is:

  1. Safe and Secure
  2. Affordable to consumers
  3. Permanent, as long as the consumer pays the rent and honors the conditions of the lease.

Supportive Housing is linked to support services that are:

  1. Optional. People are not required to participate in services to keep their housing, although they are encouraged to use services.
  2. Flexible. Individualized services are vailable when the consumer needs them, and where the consumer lives.

Financing and Funding Resources Applicable to Housing for People With Mental Illness

With no new funds identified in the OMHSAS budget for Housing Initiatives, a major goal of OMHSAS Housing technical assistance has been to engage counties in working with “Housing Partners”, through development of partnerships and participation in Local Housing Option Teams (LHOT’s), local housing authorities, county homeless planning activities, Department of Community and Economic Development activities and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. OMHSAS has compiled a list of Financing and Funding Resources Applicable to Housing for People With Mental Illness.

County Housing Plan Policy

A Plan for Promoting Housing and Recovery-Oriented Services, drafted with support from consumers, providers, County MH/MR programs and other stakeholders, provides guidance to County MH/MR Programs for their planning, resource allocation and development of effective supportive housing models and modernization of housing approaches. The Plan spells out specific actions for OMHSAS, its state partners and County MH/MR Programs for housing policy and development. Subsequently OMHSAS has increased technical assistance to counties in Housing Plan development, and specifically provided guidance on the allocation of HealthChoices Reinvestment funds for supportive housing.

With these endeavors underway, OMHSAS is requiring that any county seeking to utilize HealthChoices Reinvestment, Community Hospital Integration Program Project (CHIPP) or Base Funds for any housing activity, must prepare a Housing Plan utilizing the OMHSAS Housing Plan template. All planning must identify the priority group most in need of permanent housing by age, type of disability/need or other designation. This priority group must include the housing needs of persons currently being served in state psychiatric hospitals. The Housing Plan must be reviewed and approved by OMHSAS. In addition, every county will be required to move forward in developing a County Housing Plan as a requirement of the 2009/2012 County Plan Guidelines. OMHSAS has made guidelines available through the County Housing Plan Policy.



Created under the McKinney Act, PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) is a federal grant that funds the 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and four US territories to support service delivery to individuals with serious mental illnesses, as well as individuals with co-occurring substance use disorders, who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

The Commonwealth utilizes the PATH grant to partially address the need for services to individuals who are mentally ill and/or have co-occurring substance abuse disorders, and are homeless.  OMHSAS contracts directly with the 24 county MH/MR program offices to provide PATH services.  Many of these offices, which encompass 36 of the state’s 67 counties, sub-contract with local community providers to provide PATH services.  In order to ensure program stability, once a county establishes a PATH program, or adds PATH funded services to an existing program through a competitive process, funding continues year to year as long as they comply with all the requirements.  New counties and programs are awarded PATH funding through a competitive process if and when the state receives an increase in federal funding.


Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA)