When it comes to retirement, obtaining adequate and affordable housing is a major concern for seniors who often face limited incomes, less mobility, and increased expenses related to their health care. Adequate housing for seniors should, at a minimum, meet the following criteria:
- It should be located in a safe area and within close proximity to means of transportation, grocery stores, and health care facilities
- It should be structurally sound, have adequate heating, air conditioning, and ventilation, and meet all housing, health, and safety code requirements
- It should have accommodations for mobility issues or other disabilities (ramps, handrails, etc.), or should be able to be modified for such accommodations
- It should cost no more than 30% of a senior's income
Given their specific housing needs and the general increase in housing costs, seniors often face challenges in locating adequate housing they can afford. It’s estimated that, of those fifty years or older, there are currently about twenty million low-income households that either cannot afford their housing and/or live in inadequate housing. Oftentimes, in order to maintain adequate housing, seniors are forced to make significant tradeoffs with their food, transportation, or medical expenses.
Fortunately, there are several resources available to assist seniors in locating affordable housing that meets their needs, such as elderly rental assistance programs.
What Types Of Elderly Rental Assistance Programs Are Available?
The federal government and many state governments provide rental assistance to low-income seniors primarily through affordable housing (public housing) or through various housing voucher programs. Such assistance, even that provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is normally administered through local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs).
Affordable housing is available to low-income families, including those that qualify as elderly or disabled, and can include apartments or even single-family homes. Tenants typically will not pay more than 30% of their monthly income for rent in an affordable housing unit. Such housing is owned and operated by local PHAs which receive funding from the federal government.
To be eligible for affordable housing, a senior must be sixty-two or older and must have an annual income that’s no more than the "Lower Income" limit for the geographical area. The Lower Income limits are published annually by HUD.
Housing Voucher Programs
As opposed to affordable housing programs, housing voucher programs, such as the Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly "Section 8" program) run by HUD, involve rental assistance for private market rental units. The vouchers are run through PHAs, which pay the voucher directly to property owners, with the resident paying the difference owing on the rent. These programs involve a greater variety of housing options, as seniors are able to choose their preferred housing location from the private market, as long as the owner of the property agrees to the terms of the voucher program.
To be eligible for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, a senior must be sixty-two or older and meet the "Very Low-Income Limit" for the geographical area, which is also published annually by HUD.
In determining income eligibility for either affordable housing or housing voucher programs, HUD looks to the following sources:
- Wages, salaries, overtime, commission, fees, tips, and bonuses (before any payroll deductions)
- The net income from a business
- Interest, dividends, and any other net income from real or personal properties
- The full amount of payments from Social Security, annuities, insurance policies, retirement funds, pensions, disability, or death benefits
- Payments in lieu of earnings (unemployment, worker's compensation, severance pay, etc.)
- Welfare assistance
- Alimony or child support
- Regular contributions or gifts from persons not residing with the applicant
How Do I Apply For A Rental Assistance Program?
If you are in need of rental assistance or are aware of a senior in need of such assistance, contact your local PHA to determine eligibility and to submit an application. You can locate a PHA near you by searching for resources by state on HUD’s website. You can also contact an attorney that specializes in government benefits to learn more about federal and state rental assistance programs that may be available to you. To find an attorney near you, see FindLaw’s attorney directory.
For additional information on rental assistance programs available to seniors at the state level, contact your state's human service or social service agency. For general information on fair housing and tenant's rights see FindLaw’s "Tenant Rights." For general information on housing discrimination, including age discrimination, see FindLaw’s, "Housing Discrimination: FAQs."