If you are a senior citizen with a limited budget trying to evaluate your housing options on the Internet, chances are you have encountered conflicting and confusing information. Programs have changed in recent years, and the information published online hasn't always kept pace. The good news is, whether you want to remain in a home you already own, or are looking for affordable rent, multiple options are available to you.
HUD Housing Choice Vouchers
The housing choice voucher program is operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and offers rental subsidies to elderly, disabled and low income families. This program was previously known as Section 8 housing.
Your annual net income cannot exceed 50 percent of the median income for your geographic area. For example, in Mississippi a single person's income would have to be $16,850 or less to qualify, but in Connecticut, an individual could qualify with an income of up to $30,250. Amounts are slightly higher for couples.
Keep in mind that your net income may be lower than your actual income. Deductions may be granted based on age, medical expenses, and whether you have disabilities.
Visit the HUD Income Limits website to find out what the limits are in your state.
How to Apply
Contact your Local Public Housing Agency (PHA) to apply. Be prepared to provide references who can attest to the fact that you will be a good tenant, not engaging in practices disruptive to others in the building. Your birth certificate, tax records and banking information will also be required. If you are not a U.S. citizen you will need to provide evidence that you are a legal immigrant.
The Public Housing Agency (PHA) will use a formula to determine the precise amount of the rental subsidy, as well as the amount you will be expected to contribute. In no case should your portion exceed 30 percent of your net income.
Length of Stay
There are no limitations on how long you can stay on the housing choice voucher program. Your qualifications will be reevaluated on an ongoing basis, but as long as you continue to qualify, you may remain in the program.
USDA Affordable Rural Housing
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides subsidies to more than 15,000 apartment complexes through its Section 515 Multi-Family Housing (MFH) program. Some of these properties are designated specifically for the elderly, while others are also open to families. Apartment sizes range from studio to four bedroom homes. All units are located in rural areas across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands.
Income limitations apply and vary by geography. For example, a single person in Centreville, Mississippi, would qualify only if her annual income did not exceed $29,300. The renter would be required to pay up to 30 percent of her annual income, and any remaining balance would be covered by the subsidy. In Providence County, Rhode Island, that same person could earn up to $47,850 and qualify for the subsidy. To see information for your area, use the USDA Multi-Family Housing Rentals search site.
Visit the USDA MFH website and click your location to learn about specific properties and income restrictions in your area. Each listing provides a photo of the property, the number of units available and contact information, so you can apply for housing directly.
FHA Reverse Mortgages
Federal Housing Administration (FHA) offers the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program, frequently referred to as reverse mortgages.
This government-sponsored program has been in effect since 2009. If you are older than 62, have substantial equity in your home, and have the financial resources to keep your home in good condition, this may just be the tool that will enable you to live there indefinitely. If this option interests you, be sure to work with a trusted HECM counselor. That person can help you to understand both fees and benefits, and put you in touch with an FHA approved lender.
Local and Private Programs
Not all low-cost housing options for seniors are national in scope, nor are they all sponsored by the government. HUD comprised a list of approved housing counseling agencies which are knowledgeable about local and non-profit, as well as governmental programs. These resources are organized by state and include agencies equipped to assist with home purchases, refinancing options, rental assistance, and more.
If none of the options above can be used, many seniors get creative with their domestic relationships and their living arrangements. Some find that sharing housing with another senior strikes a good balance between independence and companionship. Still others prefer intergenerational living where they share a residence with their children and grandchildren. This can be an economical way to maintain close family ties, and the arrangement provides opportunities for mutual care giving.