Low Income Senior Housing

There are affordable senior housing options available for older Americans with a low income. Those who meet a certain criterion may qualify for vouchers, assistance programs and tax credits. It’s important to consider lifestyle, assistance requirements and which housing environment is best suited for you before deciding.

Lindsey Crossmier, writer for RetireGuide
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APA Crossmier, L. (2022, June 13). Low Income Senior Housing. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/senior-housing/senior-living-communities/low-income/

MLA Crossmier, Lindsey. "Low Income Senior Housing." RetireGuide.com, 13 Jun 2022, https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/senior-housing/senior-living-communities/low-income/.

Chicago Crossmier, Lindsey. "Low Income Senior Housing." RetireGuide.com. Last modified June 13, 2022. https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/senior-housing/senior-living-communities/low-income/.

Housing Settings for Low-Income Seniors

There are many factors to consider as you prepare for your retirement, including where you’d like to live. For many older adults, housing prices are becoming costly. According to a report from the National Council on Aging, 47 million households with older Americans are financially struggling or at risk for debt as they age.

If you have a low income and feel you need financial assistance for your new living situation, there are programs, vouchers and tax credits to help lower your costs. Knowing there are saving opportunities for each senior housing option can help you ease into retirement.

Before researching each option, first determine what type of retirement lifestyle you want, the level of assistance you’ll require and the housing environment that would best suit your goals. From there, explore your options and find out if you qualify for financial assistance.

Housing Options for Low-Income Seniors

Independently Living Seniors
Assistance RequiredRecommended Housing SettingsOptions to Help Lower Costs
  • Financial assistant with rental or housing costs
  • Apartment
  • Townhouse
  • Single-family home
  • Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV/Section 8)
  • Rural Rental Assistance (Section 521)
  • The Housing Improvement Program (HIP)
Seniors Needing Minor Supportive Housing
Assistance RequiredRecommended Housing SettingsOptions to Help Lower Costs
  • Financial help
  • Assistance with chores and personal care
  • Disability accommodations
  • Services such as transportation, social events and non-medical help
  • Assisted living community
  • Supportive housing
  • An apartment, townhome or single-family home ONLY if part-time caregivers can provide aid regularly
  • Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program (Section 202)
  • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC)
Seniors Needing Nursing Home Level Supportive Housing
Assistance RequiredRecommended Housing SettingsOptions to Help Lower Costs
  • Financial help
  • Constant supervision and medical care
  • Accommodations for disabilities
  • Aid with self care
  • Nursing home
  • Adult foster care home
  • Memory care unit of an assisted living facility
  • Any of the settings from other categories ONLY if there is constant supervision, medical care and other needed services
  • Medicaid Institutional Long-Term Care
  • Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Waivers

Low-Income Senior Housing Programs

According to the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC), up to 6.5 million older Americans qualify for housing program assistance, but only 2.9 million actually apply and use the financial support from the programs. Independent housing programs typically help cover finances for housing or rent costs. If you require health care coverage, nutrition and supervision — other housing options with low-income programs are available.

Some of these programs are available for “pre-seniors,” or those who are between the ages of 55 and 61. Typically, these individuals have a disability, general health challenges or low income.

There are also low-income senior housing programs specifically for veterans. If you are a veteran, explore all your options to ensure you’re getting optimum financial assistance.

Each option has an income limit, so make sure you qualify before applying.

Independent Living

If you’re looking into independent living options, you shouldn’t require medical care, help with self-care or additional services. Suggested housing for independent living is an apartment, townhome or single-family home. The low-income housing programs only help cover finances related to your rental and housing costs. There are two assistance programs and one voucher program available to help cover these expenses.

Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV/Section 8)

A Housing Choice Voucher is one of the most popular options for low-income seniors. If approved, you will be responsible for paying 30% of the monthly adjusted income for rent and utilities, and the remaining 70% is covered by the voucher.

There is often a waiting list before getting approved. Those who are homeless and pay more than 50% of their rent through income or are involuntarily displaced will likely be prioritized on the list.

The unit you select must be approved by the public housing agency for a housing choice voucher.

Eligibility for a Housing Choice Voucher
  • Your income must not exceed 50% of the median income for the area that you live in.
  • You must be over the age of 18.
  • You have an eligible immigration status or you’re a U.S. Citizen.
  • You passed a background check.

Rural Rental Assistance (Section 521)

Rural Rental Assistance has more requirements compared to the Housing Choice Voucher. For example, you must live in eligible Rural Rental Housing, Farm Labor Housing or projects financed by the Rural Housing service to qualify.

If approved, you will only need to cover 30% of your monthly income towards rent. The remaining 70% will be covered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Eligibility for Rural Rental Assistance
  • Must make between or below 50% to 80% of the area’s median income
  • Must live in specific eligible housing

Not all states have Rural Rental Assistance, and some states have different requirements than others, so it’s recommended to contact your USDA state office to confirm the requirements.

The Housing Improvement Program (HIP)

The Housing Improvement Program is offered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to promote financial stability for Indian families. The amount you receive depends on the level of assistance you require.

There are five categories of assistance for HIP, each with a funding limit.

HIP Categories
  1. Minor repairs on an existing home — the funding limit is between $2,500 and $7,500.
  2. In-depth renovation of an existing home — the funding limit is between $35,000 and $60,000.
  3. Replacing a home that doesn’t comply with safety codes for a new build — the funding limit is not provided by the Federal Register.
  4. Building an entirely new home — the funding limit is not provided by the Federal Register.
  5. Financial assistance towards purchase of home, such as the down payment — the funding limit is not provided by the Federal Register.
Source: Federal Register

There is also a wait list for the HIP. A point system determines how urgently you need to be approved for the HIP and there are typically more qualifications required for approval compared to other housing programs.

Eligibility Requirements for HIP
  • Be a member of a federally recognized tribe
  • Own or lease a property within your tribe’s approved area or an area that the tribe agrees to
  • Have an income no higher than 150% of the federal poverty level

Assisted Living

You should consider assisted living housing if you require a part-time caretaker or access to a professional who can help you with personal hygiene, errands, or transportation. There are senior living communities that typically have assistance available for your everyday needs.

On average, assisted living is more expensive than independent living housing, so knowing your options for low-income housing programs can help you decide what fits in your budget.

Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program (Section 202)

The Supportive Housing for the Elderly program provides capital advances from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide affordable housing for older Americans. If approved and taken off a waiting list, you will pay 30% of your income for rent each month, and HUD will be responsible for the difference.

The assisted living housing options from this program provide various support, such as social activities, cleaning, cooking and transportation.

Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program Eligibility Requirements
  • Must be at least 62 years old
  • House income cannot be over 50% of the area’s median income

Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC)

According to a recent article from the Congressional Research Service, LIHTC has an annual budget of roughly 10.9 billion, making the program a great federal resource to get affordable housing.

If approved, the LIHTC subsidizes between 30% to 70% of your low-income unit. The 30% subsidiary is paired with the 4% tax credit, which covers new construction to existing buildings. The 70% subsidiary is paired with the 9% tax credit, used for entirely new builds.

Eligibility for LIHTC
Must make below or equal to 50% to 60% of the area’s median income or have a poverty rate of 25% or more

Nursing Home Equivalent

If you require medical care, 24-hour supervision or access to memory care services, then you should consider a housing option with nursing home services.

A nursing home is typically the most expensive option due to constant care and specialized treatments. There are two Medicaid options to help lower housing costs.

Medicaid Institutional Long-Term Care

Medicaid institutional long-term care covers comprehensive inpatient services in federally approved residential facilities. Since states vary in coverage, you will be sent one bill separating what is covered and what is not.

Hospital Services Covered by Medicaid Institutional Long-Term Care
  • Intermediate Care Facilities for People with Intellectual Disability (ICF/ID)
  • Nursing Facility (NF)
  • Preadmission Screening & Resident Review (PASRR)
  • Inpatient Psychiatric Services for individuals ages 65 or older in an institution for mental diseases
Source: U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Since eligibility for Medicaid varies, it’s best to confirm regulations for your state before seeking long-term care coverage.

Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Waivers

An HCBS waiver offers long-term care services and support within their own community or home, rather than a facility or institution. Coverage may include, medical and non-medical services, homemaker or home health aide, and adult day care.

Majority of states offer services through HCBS, though each state may offer different coverage. There are over 300 HCBS Waiver programs active worldwide — all of which have basic requirements of coverage.

Requirements for a HCBS Waiver
  • Waiver services cannot cost more than getting treatments in an institution or facility
  • Your health and welfare must be protected with an individualized plan
Source: U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Low Income Housing Options for Veterans

There are specific low-income housing programs for senior Veterans, such as HUD-VASH and VA Long-Term Care Services. Both programs are backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You are only applicable for these options if you are a veteran.

HUD-VASH

HUD-VASH is a joint program between the Housing Choice Voucher (HVC) rental assistance with Veterans Affairs case management for homeless veterans and their families. HUD-VASH’s main goal is to help Veterans sustain permanent housing.

If you are a homeless veteran, then you qualify for this program. Upon approval, you will receive housing assistance from local Public Housing Agencies to rent a home while receiving clinical and supportive services from the VA.

Supportive Services Offered from HUD-VASH
  • Health care
  • Mental health treatment
  • Substance abuse counseling
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

VA Long-Term Care Services

To qualify for VA long-term care services, you must be a veteran enrolled in VA health care before applying. To be approved, you must have a clinical need for treatment and the service must be available nearby.

If you have a lower income or a disability, moving into a VA nursing home could be covered by VA long-term care services. Know that assisted living facilities are not covered.

Services Offered from VA Long-Term Care
  • Adult day health care
  • Skilled home health care
  • Respite care
Last Modified: June 13, 2022

13 Cited Research Articles

  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2022, February 10). VA Homeless Programs. Retrieved from https://www.va.gov/homeless/hud-vash.asp
  2. Office of Policy Development and Research. (2022). Qualified Census Tracts and Difficult Development Areas. Retrieved from https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/qct.html
  3. National Council on Aging. (2021, August 24). 47 Million Seniors Struggle Financially or Are at Risk. Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/article/47-million-seniors-struggle-financially-or-are-at-risk
  4. Housing Choice Voucher Program Guidebook. (2021, July). HUD-VASH Vouchers. Retrieved from https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/PIH/documents/HUD_VASH_HCV_Guidebook_Chapter_July_2021.pdf
  5. Congressional Research Service. (2021, January 26). An Introduction to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. Retrieved from https://sgp.fas.org/crs/misc/RS22389.pdf
  6. National Low Income Housing Coalition. (2020, April 27). Growing Number of Assisted and Unassisted Seniors. Retrieved from https://nlihc.org/resource/growing-number-assisted-and-unassisted-seniors#:~:text=The%20Public%20and%20Affordable%20Housing,a%202.9%25%20increase%20since%202018
  7. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020, February 27). VA Long Term Care Services. Retrieved from https://www.va.gov/geriatrics/pages/VA_Long_Term_Care_Services.asp
  8. Federal Register. (2015, November 10). Housing Improvement Program. Retrieved from https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2015/11/10/2015-28547/housing-improvement-program
  9. U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (n.d.). Home & Community-Based Services 1915(c). Retrieved from https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/home-community-based-services/home-community-based-services-authorities/home-community-based-services-1915c/index.html
  10. U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (n.d.). Institutional Long-Term Care. Retrieved from https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/long-term-services-supports/institutional-long-term-care/index.html
  11. Novogradac. (n.d.). Affordable Housing Resource Center. Retrieved from https://www.novoco.com/resource-centers/affordable-housing-tax-credits/lihtc-basics/about-lihtc
  12. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.). Section 202 Supportive Housing for The Elderly Program. Retrieved from https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/housing/mfh/progdesc/eld202
  13. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.). Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.hud.gov/topics/housing_choice_voucher_program_section_8