4 Low-Income Senior Housing Options Explained


Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

When thinking about senior housing options, you may immediately consider assisted living. Unfortunately, for many older adults and their families, the cost of assisted living is too high to consider long-term. According to Genworth, the median monthly cost of assisted living in 2022 is $4635.00. That cost could be even higher depending on where you live and how much care is needed. Alternatives to assisted living are often more affordable but still out of reach for many. 

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Medicare does not pay for assisted living, and unless you have a long-term care insurance policy, you will need to find the funds to pay, possibly for years. As housing and rental rates soar across the country, many older adults find themselves in a very challenging situation where they may be unable to afford housing. Estimates are that in 10 years, half of middle-income seniors won’t be able to afford housing. 

Low-income senior housing has been in existence for a long time. As the number of older people continues to grow, the strain on the system is significant. Long wait lists are standard, and income and asset criteria keep many people from qualifying. When you review these options, apply early to get a coveted spot in low-income senior housing if you think you may qualify. Keep reading to explore your low-income senior housing options in greater detail. 

What Is Low-Income Senior Housing?

To begin, what even is low-income senior housing? It’s normal to not be familiar with this housing option, especially if you’re not familiar with your local senior housing options. 

Low-income senior housing properties are affordable apartment communities offering reasonably priced rents to lower-income older adults. In some cases, younger or disabled adults are also eligible. Affordable senior housing properties are independent housing communities, similar to other apartment complexes. Like all other apartments, they’re subject to fair housing regulations. This means you can’t be denied housing based on functional status unless living in an independent community would pose a safety hazard.

Low-income senior housing may have some services such as case management, but most are primarily entirely independent. This means residents are on their own when it comes to care. There is no on-site caretaker, nurse, or any other medical support. In some cities, there could be relationships with medical providers who will come on-site.

Architectural design will vary from property to property, with many being high rises and modern buildings. Most low-income housing properties have community spaces, and some have meal programs. There might be a small fitness room and library. It largely depends on your community's resources, but low-income senior housing can be a reliable, affordable place to call home. 

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Who Typically Qualifies for Low-Income Senior Housing?

With that in mind, who qualifies for this type of low-income senior housing? Qualifications for each type of low-income senior housing vary, but the two basic requirements are age and income. For programs except for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, LIHTC, the participant criteria is determined by the applicant's monthly adjusted income. 

Public housing is limited to low-income families and individuals. The local housing authority determines your eligibility based on your annual gross income. This is true whether you qualify as elderly, a person with a disability, or as a family. You also must be an eligible U.S. citizen. If you are eligible, the HA will check your references to ensure you and your family are good tenants.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets the lower income limit at 80% of the median income for the county or city where you live and very low-income limits at 50% of the median income.

Subsidized rent situations allow individuals to pay a reasonable portion of their monthly income. In some instances, individuals receive a direct subsidy that sets their rent at approximately 30% of their monthly income. The goal of this program is to reduce the burden of long-term housing for low-income seniors. 

How Does Low-Income Senior Housing Typically Work?

It can be daunting to try and figure out what low-income senior housing is available to you. The best place to start is at the HUD website to find low-income housing in your area. 

You can also go to the US government website to find affordable rental housing of any kind. You will need to provide the following information on the application, with variations depending on the program you apply for:

  • The names of everyone who will be living in the unit
  • Family demographics
  • Previous landlord information
  • Employment, bank, and verification of income and any deductions that may apply
  • There could be a personal family interview and evaluate the current home situation.

Applying for low-income senior housing is similar to applying to any apartment community. You’ll need to prove you’re a reliable tenant and that you’re equipped to live here safely. 

Popular Low-Income Senior Housing Options

Now, let’s look at the most popular low-income senior housing options available nationwide. The program you choose depends upon eligibility criteria and availability in your community. You can apply for as many programs as you want and get on multiple waiting lists. 

Budgets are tight for low-income housing, and the need exceeds availability. In all of the low-income senior options, living arrangements are independent. If you need personal care assistance over time, it will be up to you to arrange and pay for that. Low-income senior housing communities typically have minimal staffing. 

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1. HUD Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program

First, the housing voucher program is the largest federal program for helping low-income seniors and the disabled. The difference with the housing voucher program is that the subsidy is provided directly to the individual seeking housing, in the form of a voucher. 

In this program, your housing can be any of your choices. It does not need to be subsidized, but it does need to meet the program requirements. However, you need your landlord to agree to the program, and this is not mandatory on their behalf. Additionally, waiting lists for this federal program can be lengthy. 

Participation qualifications:

  • In general, your income cannot exceed 50% of the median income for your area
  • You have to be a U.S. citizen or have eligible immigration status
  • The landlord has to agree to rent under the program 
  • The subsidy is paid directly to the landlord, and you or your family pays the difference
  • The rental unit must meet federally mandated standards for health and safety.

2. HUD Section 202 Supportive Housing 

Second, the HUD Section 202 Housing program has two components. One is the provision of low-rate loans and grants to nonprofit developers to build affordable senior housing. The other component is rental subsidies for qualified applicants. 

The vast majority of HUD Section 202 housing program recipients are single people, not larger families. Generally, rent is no more than 30% of the applicant's income. If you qualify, many local programs under Section 202 have a services coordinator to assist residents with connecting to health, social, and transportation needs.

Participation qualifications:

  • Section 202 housing is available to seniors over the age of 62
  • The head of the household must be 62 or the spouse of a person who is 62 
  • The rental amount is determined by income

3. Low Income Housing Tax Credit 

Next, the LIHTC program provides substantial tax credits to housing builders and owners to induce them to buy, rehabilitate, or build rental housing for lower-income individuals. 

Although the program is not specifically for seniors, seniors can live in a LIHTC that is not designated for seniors. Many LIHTC rental communities offer a mix of low-income units along with non-subsidized full-market rate rental units. Rent is based on two factors: the number of bedrooms the unit has and the income limit assigned to that unit.

Credit qualifications:

  • If the housing is designated as senior only, the applicant must be 55 or, in some cases, 62 years old
  • The income bracket is determined by the average income for that area
  • Tenants must not earn more income than the unit’s bracket allows (ie. If a household were to make 55% of the area average for a unit’s set household size, they would not be eligible for a 50% unit. However, they would qualify for a 60% unit.)
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4. Rural Rental Assistance 

Finally, the Department of Agriculture has a Rural Housing Division that provides rental assistance. Under the program, non-profit organizations can build rental properties with government assistance. Then, the program can offer subsidized rental units to people who qualify.

Program qualifications:

  • A family needs to have no more than 50%-80% of the area’s median income
  • The housing must be defined as rural 

Senior Shared Housing Options

Despite all of the low-income and tax credit programs available for low-income seniors, most people may not qualify because their income is too high. Still, many seniors can’t afford independent or assisted living even with a higher income. Seniors may fall into more of a middle-income area, making it challenging to find affordable housing. 

As the older population grows, other creative senior housing options are emerging. Low-income senior housing options typically have some support services available in the form of on-site service coordinators, but otherwise, residents are independent. If you don’t require personal care assistance and other support, you can consider house sharing or other housing arrangements. 

When several seniors get together to share a home, the cost is much more affordable. In some cases, one owner rents to two or three other people, or several seniors pool their resources to purchase a home to live in together. However, in low-income senior housing, the living space is likely handicapped accessible and single-level living with little maintenance. Home upkeep and repairs are shared responsibilities when living in a home with other seniors.  

Understand Low-Income Senior Housing Options

Affordable housing for seniors is available, but there is much more that needs to be done to ensure that people have safe and convenient options. Investigate the low-income housing programs in your area and apply to all that you qualify for. 

In time, you may land an affordable apartment where you can find support and the company of other seniors. This is why it’s important to look forward and plan ahead, as well as to take advantage of the resources in your community. 


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