Obtaining adequate and affordable housing is a major concern for older adults. They often face limited incomes, less mobility, and increased expenses related to their health care.
Adequate housing for older adults should, at a minimum, meet the following criteria:
- Located in a safe area
- Close proximity to means of transportation, grocery stores, and health care facilities
- Structurally sound
- Adequate heating, air conditioning, and ventilation
- Meet all housing, health, and safety code requirements
- Accommodations for mobility issues or other disabilities (ramps, handrails, etc.)
- Can be modified for mobility and disability accommodations
- Cost no more than 30% of an older adult's income
Given their specific housing needs and the general increase in housing costs, older adults often face challenges in locating adequate housing they can afford. For those 50 or older, many low-income households cannot afford their housing and cannot live in inadequate housing.
To maintain adequate housing, older adults are often forced to make significant tradeoffs with their food, transportation, or medical expenses.
Fortunately, several resources are available to assist older adults in locating affordable housing that meets their needs. One resource is older adult rental assistance programs.
What Types Of Elderly Rental Assistance Programs Are Available?
The federal and state governments provide rental assistance to low-income older adults. This is primarily through affordable housing (public housing) or various housing voucher programs.
Such assistance, even provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is normally administered through local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs).
Affordable Housing Basics
Affordable housing is available to low-income families, including those that qualify as elderly or disabled. It 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 that receive federal government funding.
To be eligible for affordable housing, someone must:
- Be 62 or older
- 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. There are also exceptions for those 55 or older.
Housing Voucher Program Basics
Unlike affordable housing programs, housing voucher programs involve rental assistance for private market rental units. One example is the Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly called "Section 8" program) run by HUD.
The vouchers are run through PHAs that pay the voucher directly to property owners. The resident pays the difference owed on the rent.
These programs involve a greater variety of housing options. Older adults can choose their preferred housing location from the private market if the property owner agrees to the voucher program's terms.
To be eligible for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, an adult must be 62 or older and meet the "Very Low-Income Limit" for the geographical area, which is also published annually by HUD.
HUD determines income eligibility for either affordable housing or housing voucher programs. HUD will look 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 or an older adult are in need of rental assistance, contact your local PHA to determine eligibility and 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 focused on 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.
Next Steps To Learn More
Contact your state's human service or social service agency for additional information on rental assistance programs available to older adults at the state level.
For general information on fair housing and tenant rights, see FindLaw’s "Tenant Rights." For general information on housing discrimination, including age discrimination, see FindLaw’s "Housing Discrimination: FAQs."