Definitions / Overview
The federal government offers a number of programs designed to help financially stressed seniors (or families) by providing them with low cost housing or by providing partial rent payments directly to landlords. Among these programs, those most relevant to the elderly are Public Housing, the Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly Section 8 rental certificates), and Section 202 Housing. It is worth noting that all of these programs are often referred to erroneously as assisted living voucher programs, and are funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Public Housing – of the three, this option is the least relevant to elderly or frail individuals who require both housing and assistance. No care assistance is available, nor are the residences designed with the intent of accommodating frail, elderly persons. This may be an option for those seniors who can live independently, and if availability allows, for choice of housing units. However, given the low relevance of this option, it will not be discussed in further detail on this page. One can read more on HUD’s webpage.
Housing Choice Voucher Program – currently abbreviated as HCVP, and formerly referred to as Section 8, this option provides vouchers that can be used at a multitude of public housing properties. It is more appropriate for elderly individuals because the participant has greater flexibility to choose a unit that works for their abilities. Additionally, this program is the largest of the three and therefore has a greater likelihood of having open spots for new participants.
Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly – as implied by its name, Section 202 is the most appropriate option for the elderly as the units are designed to accommodate elderly individuals’ physical challenges. Care and supportive services, such as meals, housecleaning, and transportation are available at these residences.
Pros and Cons
Government assisted housing for seniors can have multi-year wait lists.
Government housing assistance, specifically the Section 202 program, is helpful for financially impoverished, yet healthy seniors, or those that require some assistance with their activities of daily living. While open to seniors older than 62, the average resident is 79 years old, and their annual incomes average less than $10,000. Ninety percent of residents are single women.
The major drawback of these units is the extensive waiting lists. Multiple year waits are the norm, making this a non-option for elderly individuals requiring immediate care. Preference for admission goes to those whose rent exceeds 50% of their income, those being involuntarily displaced from their current residence, and those living in sub-standard housing currently.
Some Section 202 residences offer care services on par with assisted living communities. Units are typically one bedroom, and include grab bars and ramps to help seniors remain safe and independent. As mentioned previously, meals and transportation can be provided, but this is not a good option for those requiring 24-hour supervision, skilled nursing, or adult day care.
Housing Choice Voucher Program
- Age – in most cases, one needs to be over the age of 18.
- Disabilities / Health – the health or disability status is not an eligibility factor, but many residences are not appropriate for the elderly and frail.
- Marital Status – is not an eligibility factor. However, additional space requirements for couples may limit choices.
- Financial – depending on the geographic area, applicants’ incomes must be no greater than 50% of their geographic area’s median income. The average income of a resident is less than $12,000 / year. Look up your state and county median income here.
Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly
Applications for Section 202 housing are handled at the residence level and each residence has its own eligibility requirements. What follows are generalized requirements that are typical of Section 202 housing complexes.
- Age – the minimum age is 62 years old.
- Disabilities / Health – there are no minimum disability requirements.
- Marital Status – is typically not a requirement, although over 90% of residents are single women.
- Financial – the incomes levels for government-assisted housing are typically below fifty percent of their area’s median income.Look up your state’s median income on the US Census website.
- Geographic – one’s city or state only plays a role in eligibility because applications are handled at the residence level and residences tend to favor applicants from their own communities. One is free to apply to residences outside their immediate vicinity.
Housing benefits come in the form of inexpensive monthly rent of homes, apartments, and in-group residential settings with supportive services. Seniors do not receive cash benefits for assistance. Rather, their rents are reduced. Therefore, assisted housing benefits can only be applied towards housing costs. Efforts are made to reduce a senior’s rental expenses to less than 50% of their monthly income.
The wait time to receive government assisted housing benefits is a significant problem. Waiting lists that are several years long are not uncommon. A report from the AARP has found the average wait time to receive housing has increased in the past few years from 9 months to 13 months.
There are no costs associated with applying for or being on the wait list for government assisted housing programs such as Section 202 or Housing Choice Voucher Program.
How to Apply
Step 1 – Determine if you or your loved one meets the programs eligibility requirements.
Step 2 – Find independent living or assisted living communities in which you or your loved one will want to reside. Free assistance finding communities is available here. It is recommended you find several communities that are appropriate, as it is likely that some communities will not accept vouchers. An alternative approach is to use HUD’s apartment locator. This is a self-guided approach and no assistance is available for the process.
Step 3 – Contact the residence and ask or confirm that they accept vouchers or participate in the program.
Step 4 – Inquire about availability and waiting lists.
For more information about the Housing Choice Voucher Program, click here.
For more information about the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program, click here.