It’s no secret that we’re getting older. Over 76 million Americans are either at or approaching retirement age, and for some of us, getting older and retiring means getting poorer. More than 25 million Americans over 60 are economically insecure.
When you’re living on a fixed income, it can be a struggle to keep up with rising costs of living, and especially housing. Affordable housing programs exist, but how do you find the right program? And what does that process look like?
Here’s a quick guide to options.
You might think you’re out of options for housing based on your income. But have you looked into subsidized housing? Several programs provide rental assistance to low-income seniors.
HUD Subsidized Units: Public and Private
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has developed programs to help seniors find affordable housing in their areas. Subsidized senior housing units are available through local HUD Housing Agencies. HUD works both with privately owned units and public housing units that receive government assistance.
Public: The subsidized units are in local housing complexes that cater exclusively to low-income seniors and their families. If you are interested in applying, you can contact your local HA or local HUD Field Office.
Private: HUD helps apartment owners offer reduced rents to low-income tenants. Unlike with public housing, you can apply to private complexes directly at their management offices, though you have to meet eligibility requirements and may get put on a waiting list. Search for an apartment and apply at the management office.
Demand for both public and private subsidized options is high, but several factors could help you bypass a public housing waiting list. Public housing agencies might give you preference if you are involuntarily displaced, paying over half of your income for rent, or living in a unit they consider “substandard.”
HUD Section 8 Vouchers
The voucher system, administered at a state level by HUD, is another option. These vouchers are designed to help low-income individuals pay for all or part of their rent. You might qualify to receive housing vouchers for rent and utilities based on your income. If you’re approved, you can choose your housing unit and will be required to pay 30 percent of your monthly-adjusted gross income for rent and utilities. Each unit is inspected to meet the standards of the public housing agencies, which will work to calculate the maximum amount of housing assistance available to you. You can choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program – meaning you’re not restricted to units located in subsidized housing projects.
You can get more information on this program at HUD’s Section 8 portal.
You can search for an apartment in your area to start your process.
Do I Qualify for HUD Subsidized Housing Vouchers?
Low-income is a pretty broad term. So how do you know if you meet HUD’s requirement for subsidized housing vouchers?
You’ll have to meet several key specifications in order to qualify for housing vouchers.
- Meet HUD’s income limits: Your annual net income must be 50 percent or less of the median income for your area. Obviously, this number will vary based on your geographic region. The median income is much higher in large metropolitan centers like New York City or San Francisco than it is in rural areas of the Midwest. Be sure to consider your net income when evaluating income levels. This includes deductions such as medical costs. It also includes benefits such as pensions, Social Security and retirement accounts. You can get more information on the median income in your area here.
- Pass a screening by a public housing agency. During the application process, the public housing agency will collect information such as family income, assets, and family composition to verify your eligibility. The public housing agency will then verify this information with your bank, employer, and other local agencies.
- Be at least 62 years old (or have a family member who is) and pass a background screening for income, assets and family composition. In some circumstances a portion of assets will count as annual income.
The agency will collect this information and determine if you are eligible. If so, you will be placed on a waiting list or provided with immediate assistance based on your situation. The housing agency will contact you and provide housing vouchers once your name has come up on the waiting list.
How to Apply for Housing Vouchers
To apply for vouchers, contact your local public housing agency. When applying, be prepared with all of your relevant information. You’ll need proof of income, banking information, tax records and also a birth certificate.
You can find your local agency and connect with it by clicking here.
Affordable Retirement Communities and Senior Apartments
If you don’t qualify for subsidized housing or vouchers, don’t lose hope. Some retirement communities and senior apartments are more affordable than regular rentals. The most important thing to do is give yourself time to find a spot you like that’s within your budget. Many senior communities have extensive waiting lists,
- Pay close attention to hidden fees during your search. Many senior communities are turning to an “a la carte” pricing structure where you pay more for additional services. A community’s fee structure may make it seem as if additional services are included, but if you read the fine print, they actually incur an extra charge. Play close attention to the rental contract and be on the lookout for any hidden fees, rent increase, and utility costs.
- If you might need some sort of assistance during your stay, also consider that some medical assistance, such as nursing services, can be deducted for tax purposes to save you money.
The key to finding affordable housing is conducting thorough research. Seek out referrals from your community and use your family or an experienced real estate agent. You can also connect with a senior living advisor to better understand the options available in your area.
As the founder and CEO of GHC Housing Partners and the key principal in more than 18,000 affordable housing units in 24 states, Greg Perlman is an expert on subsidized housing programs for seniors.