Low Income Housing Options for Seniors
Most seniors are careful with their budgets, but for low-income seniors, budgeting isn’t always enough to make ends meet. The federal government and most cities and counties offer housing help to elders who can’t afford fair market rates for apartments. However, in many places, demand for affordable senior housing is greater than the supply of available rentals. Here’s what you need to know about finding out what you can afford, what assistance you may be eligible to receive, and other affordable housing ideas.
It’s helpful to start by seeing what programs are available in your area. Online search tools can help you get a general sense of housing costs near you and show you whether you qualify for housing assistance. You can also get in touch with local housing agencies for details about the types of rental assistance that are available in your area, how to qualify, and how to apply. Here are some things to consider during your affordable senior housing search.
What can you expect to pay for senior housing?
View 2017 Fair Market Rents (FMRs) for cities and counties around the US to get a sense of what you’ll pay in your area and beyond. For example, the 2017 FMR for a one-bedroom apartment in the Austin metropolitan area is $968 per month. An hour’s drive south, the FMR for a one-bedroom in San Antonio—a city with thriving culture and good medical care–is $768. An hour north in Bell County, which is more rural and small-town than Austin or San Antonio, the FMR for a one-bedroom apartment is $594. Comparing the rents in different parts of your state or region can help you narrow down your search and stay within your budget.
Where should you live?
Because apartments in major cities are often expensive, moving to a suburb or small town near your metro area may be a smart move—as long as you can still get to the places you want to go and connect to a social network so you don’t get isolated and bored. Questions to ask about each neighborhood or senior housing community you look at include:
- Is it close to family, friends and medical providers? Unless you’re a born adventurer you’ll probaby enjoy life more if there are people you already know nearby.
- Is there a grocery store nearby?
- Is it close to public transportation and/or walkable?
- Does the apartment have ADA features you need now or might need later, such as a ramp or bathroom grab bars?
- Does the community or landlord allow pets?
- What do other residents and families have to say about the building, the management, and the neighborhood? Talking to people who live there and reading online reviews of senior communities can give you a clearer sense of what life is like there before you sign a lease.
Take notes on each place you’re considering so you can compare them more easily later.
How do you want to search for senior apartments?
If you have a specific city or county in mind and prefer to find your own apartment, you can begin your affordable senior housing search with HUD’s low-rent apartment search tool to find qualifying senior housing properties in your area and contact them directly. You can also look up your city or county housing authority to find all the low-income senior housing public options in your area, along with application information.
It’s important to know that in many areas, especially large cities, there are usually waitlists to apply for low-income housing. In some cases, the waitlist may not always be open to new people. If that’s the case, you’ll need to explore other options for affordable housing while you wait for a spot to open up.
Creative housing solutions for seniors
If affordable housing is scarce in your area, or if you’re on a waitlist measured in years rather than months, you may have more options than you realize for living affordably. All of these options will require you to live with other people— roommates, tenants, or family members. Here are a few ways seniors can make shared housing work.
Senior shared housing
Many seniors find themselves at a point in life where the big home they bought to house their whole family is only inhabited by one. With 87% of seniors hoping to age in place, this is an increasingly common scenario. The idea behind shared housing is simple: a homeowner with more space than they need opens up their home to someone who needs a place to live. They can rent out a room for pay, they can work out a deal with the homesharer to help with the around-the-house chores the senior is having trouble with, or they can figure out an arrangement that’s some combination of the two and works well for both people.
Shared housing may be a good option for you if:
- Your home is larger than you need and includes one or more bedrooms that are going unused.
- You haven’t paid off the mortgage and it’s becoming difficult to balance those monthly payments with your other expenses in retirement.
- You’ve realized that living alone makes you lonely.
How to find a roommate
Recognizing the growing need for senior shared housing, the Golden Girls Network arose to help potential senior roommates find one another. Whether you’re looking for a senior to move into the home you own, or are looking for a home to move into, the website helps you find someone who’s likely to be a good fit. There are other roommate match websites and services out there, but if you want to stick with other seniors, this one conveniently narrows the field of options down.
If you’re open to the idea of finding a younger roommate, a website like Roomie Match can help you find someone that’s compatible, and does the important work of screening out likely scammers.
How to provide student housing
If you live near a college or university, you may be able to rent out your spare room to a student. Not only is this good for seniors who need to save money on housing, but it’s also good for students who want a quiet place to sleep and study, rather than being stuck in a crowded dorm.
Mixed-age cohousing helps students and seniors in the Netherlands. The Humanitas retirement community of about 160 seniors is also home to about half a dozen college students who enjoy rent-free private apartments in exchange for being active members of the community. For at least 30 hours a month, student residents spend time talking with their older housemates and helping with tasks and errands. The students get to keep their expenses down and enjoy a quieter environment than rowdy student housing, while seniors get more social interaction and attention to help stave off depression and cognitive decline.
In the US, New York University–one of the country’s most expensive colleges in the heart of one of the county’s most expensive cities–is piloting a program to cut housing costs by placing some students with low-income seniors who have extra room in their apartments. A typical year’s room and board at NYU costs anywhere from $10,000 to $18,000. Meanwhile, low-income seniors living nearby in Greenwich Village have to contend with rising costs and healthcare expenses. Under the pilot program, which began in fall of 2017, students will pay $5,000 per year to bunk in a senior’s spare bedroom. NYU says most of that money will go to the senior hosts. They get extra income, and students cut their housing expenses by half, if not more.
Unlike similar programs in Chicago and the Netherlands, college students in the NYU program will not be required to provide care, errands or chores for their hosts. Despite the program’s informal nickname, “Grandma’s spare room,” hosts won’t be required to look after wild or homesick younger roommates, either — only “mature” upperclassmen and graduate students can apply. Instead, planners recommend that participants informally look out for each other and come to their own chore arrangements the way any roommates would.
The Guardian reports that other Manhattan schools might try the Grandma’s spare room approach, as could schools in other cities where housing costs are expensive. If college tuition and healthcare costs keep rising, the trend of pairing students and seniors to save on housing may just be getting started. If you’re interested in this option, contact the student housing offices at your local colleges and universities.
Many generations, one home
Living with other family members, under your roof or theirs, may be another cost-cutting option. It’s definitely a trend that’s catching on. The number of multigenerational households is at a historic high in the US. More than 60 million Americans now share a home with more than one generation of adults and/or have grandparents and grandchildren living under the same roof.
To make multigenerational housing work for everyone, experts say it’s important to establish ground rules for everyone, such as quiet times, schedules for chores, and expectations of how spaces will be shared. Many of the same design adaptations that make aging in place possible for seniors also make spaces safer for small children—ramps instead of steps and grab bars in showers and tubs, for example. Multigenerational households may also benefit from the services many seniors use when they live alone, such as concierge services to deliver groceries and in-home care for adults who need extra help with daily tasks.
Affordable housing issues for LGBT seniors
People over age 65 are the fastest growing age group in the United States, and public policy experts say there’s a rapidly growing need for housing that meets their needs. That’s especially true for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender seniors; studies have found that LGBT elders are more likely than other seniors to face discrimination when they’re looking for a place to live.
To address issues of scarcity, affordability, and discrimination, SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) is working on a long-term plan to improve housing options for LGBT seniors. The group has outlined areas that need improvement in order to better serve LGBT people as they age.
The first step to finding housing is to know that Fair Housing Act anti-discrimination policies apply to LGBT people. Not everyone has gotten the news, as a national HUD study found that gay and lesbian couples were more likely than straight couples to face rental discrimination. But federal law says that owners, landlords, and supervisors of properties served by HUD and the Federal Housing Authority may not ask prospective buyers or renters about their sexual orientation or gender identity. People who encounter anti-LGBT discrimination during their housing search can report it to HUD for investigation.
Affordability is a huge challenge for many seniors, especially those who have faced income and employment discrimination during their peak earning years. SAGE’s state and local groups have begun surveying their communities to pinpoint LGBT senior needs, with the goal of deciding whether to build new communities, improve access to existing housing, or both. To learn more about LGBT housing and community support in a city near you, check out our blog series.
Know your senior housing rights
Get the facts about the Fair Housing Act and learn about how it helps protects you from discrimination based on your gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, and disability status. And remember that you can always contact your Area Agency on Aging for more information on housing and other senior assistance.
Need more information on housing in your area? Call our senior living advisors at 1-800-805-3621.