Rental Housing

Affordable Rental Housing Opportunities

The likelihood of seniors finding affordable rental housing in the private market depends much on their locale's rental housing costs. In the year 2004, a recently occupied mid-price two-bedroom apartment (rental units at the 40th percentile) cost $1,420 in Oakland, California, $707 in Tucson, Arizona, and $752 in Cleveland, Ohio, and $ 580 in Gainesville, Florida. If seniors were not expected to pay more than 30 percent of their income on their rent, they would need to have annual incomes, respectively, of $56,800, $28,280, $30,080, and $23,200.

Low-income seniors who find the private rental housing market too expensive may be able to secure affordable accommodations if they apply successfully to the rent-asisted housing programs administere by federal, state, or local governments. Typically, eligible households (those headed by people ages 62 and older) are not expected to pay more than 30 percent of their adjusted annual income, which is primarily their earned and asset income, minus an amount allowed for certain expenses (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2003a).

Most government-sponsored health and social programs determine who is poor by comparing their incomes to federal poverty thresholds that vary by household size, but not by location. In contrast, most government-assisted rental housing programs determine eligibility by whether households of particular sizes have incomes that are sufficiently below the median family income of the local area (metropolitan area or non-metropolitan county).

Eligible households usually must have an income that is below 80 percent of the area's median income. Some housing programs target seniors with extremely low incomes, below 30 percent of their area's median income, while other consider households eligible if they have incomes below 50 percent of their area's median income. Because some places are more expensive to live in than others, a household might be considered poor in one place but not in another (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2003). An older person living alone, for example, satisfying the very low income eligibility threshold limit in the cities cited earlier, could have an income as high as $ 29,000 in limit in Oakland, $ 14,200 in Tuscon, and $ 21,000 in Cleveland, and $ 18,250 in Gainesville.

A variety of federal, state, and local government programs offer affordable housing, and most are administered by HUD. Finding a suitable apartment can be a daunting tasks, however. In some communities, seniors could be on a waiting list for years. It is useful to distinguish among the different types of rental housing programs: Public (Local) Housing; Tenant Based Section 8 Housing; Section 202 Housing and the Section 515 Program; the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program; and State, County, and City Affordable Housing Programs (Golant, 203; Kochera, 2001, 2002b; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2003a).

The information above is reprinted from Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues with permission from Society of Certified Senior Advisors® . Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.