It’s hard to rebound from financial shocks in retirement. Job loss, divorce, a health emergency or a death in the family can strap your resources, deplete your savings and leave you wondering what comes next.
Economic volatility and soaring inflation only add to the stress.
If you’re an older American struggling to afford housing, it’s important to understand your options.
There are federal, state and local programs that help seniors with low incomes pay for housing. You might qualify for rental assistance or subsidized housing at a senior apartment complex.
Knowing where to start is often the hardest part. In this guide, we break down what you need to know about how to find affordable senior housing in your community.
We’ll also cover other ways to save money on housing, including how to negotiate rent with your landlord and when it makes sense to find a roommate.
How to Find Affordable Housing for Low-Income Seniors
If you’re exploring housing options for yourself or someone you love, you should first determine what type of living arrangement you need and what you can afford.
Thankfully, there are apartments and other housing specifically designated for seniors on fixed incomes.
Here’s how to get started.
Speak With Your Local Housing Authority
Contacting your local public housing authority should be your first step in finding affordable senior housing.
This agency can help you apply for either low-rent public housing or a Housing Choice Voucher from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Only your local agency can tell you whether you qualify for this assistance.
To find your public housing agency:
- Use this directory from HUD to see a list of public housing agencies in your area.
- Select your state to find the contact information for your local agency.
- Or you can call the public housing agency customer service line at ??800-955-2232 to get the contact information for your agency.
Your public housing agency can also connect you to other grants, resources and programs only available in your community. This can include assistance with your utility bills, transportation vouchers or meal delivery programs.
You can apply at more than one housing agency for assistance. There are often long waiting lists, so if you’re willing to move to a nearby city or county, you might find housing faster.
Talk to a HUD-Approved Housing Counselor
Not sure if public housing is right for you? A HUD-approved housing counselor can help you explore all your options.
These counselors can help you with:
- Managing and budgeting your finances
- Advice on buying a home
- Home improvement and repair services
- Homeless services
- Rental housing services
- Foreclosure avoidance
- Credit issues
- Information about reverse mortgages
Counseling from these agencies is free for foreclosure-prevention counseling and homeless counseling. Other services such as rental advice may carry a fee — although agencies must provide counseling for free to people who cannot afford the cost.
To find a HUD-approved housing counseling service near you:
- Search online using this HUD database.
- Call HUD’s interactive voice system at 800-569-4287
Staff who answer the main phone will be able to respond to or direct your calls to the appropriate person.
For general questions about HUD or its programs, you’ll want to contact your local HUD office. Find your local HUD office here.
Look at Senior Housing Websites
Senior living sites like After55 and SeniorHousingNet let you search for affordable housing options in your local area.
You can also read reviews of senior apartments near you on Google and websites like SeniorAdvisor.com.
It’s up to you to determine if these low-income housing options meet your needs. Contact each property individually to see if you’re eligible for reduced rent.
Finding affordable senior housing takes time. Break the task up into manageable steps. Ask family and friends for help organizing paperwork and visiting housing agencies.
How Do You Qualify for Affordable Senior Housing?
To qualify for low-income housing, your income must typically be less than than 80% to 50% of the median income in your county or city.
However, each housing program can set different eligibility requirements based on an applicant’s age and income.
Be prepared to provide lots of personal information and documents when applying for affordable senior housing.
You typically need to provide your:
- Birth certificate
- Annual gross income
- Bank statements
- Rental history
- Social Security benefits statements
- Federal tax returns
Types of Affordable Senior Housing Programs
If you’re struggling to afford housing, the federal government may be able to help.
There are several subsidized housing programs out there — and a few are specifically designed to assist seniors with low incomes.
The best way to see if you qualify for an affordable senior housing program is to contact your local public housing agency.
Keep in mind nearly all of these programs carry lengthy waiting lists of at least six months to a year. It’s best to apply as early as possible if you need affordable housing.
Housing Choice Vouchers
HUD’s housing choice voucher program allows the elderly, disabled and very low-income families to find their own housing.
You aren’t limited to units located in subsidized housing projects. Instead, you’re responsible for finding a suitable housing unit that meets minimum standards of health and safety.
This can include single-family homes, townhouses, apartments or even your current residence. Vouchers can also be used to buy homes in some cases.
If you qualify, a housing voucher is paid to the landlord directly by your public housing agency each month. You’ll pay the difference between the actual rent and the amount subsidized by the program.
Generally, your income can’t exceed 50% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area where you’re applying.
Tenants usually pay 30% of their monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities, and the voucher makes up all or most of the difference.
Public housing comes in all shapes and sizes. High-rise apartment buildings are the most common public housing option for older adults.
Income limits for public housing vary from area to area, so it’s important to contact your public housing agency to check requirements.
The elderly and disabled are typically given higher priority for public housing.
Rent can cost as little as $25 to $50 or as much as 30% of your household’s monthly adjusted income.
Low-Income Housing Tax Credit
In the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, developers and investors receive tax credits from the state to buy, rehab or construct rental housing for lower-income people.
By law, each development must set aside a minimum number of units for eligible low- or very low-income residents.
Many LIHTC properties are operated as 55+ or 62+ communities, or senior apartments.
Residents must generally have limited or fixed incomes of around 60% of the area’s median income.
You can use this database to see a list of LIHTC properties in your area. Or contact a HUD-approved housing counseling agency to explore your options.
Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly
The Section 202 program subsidizes independent living-type apartments for older Americans.
Section 202 offers housing for the elderly and disabled who are able to live mostly on their own, but who still need assistance with certain daily tasks like cleaning and cooking.
These properties typically include other supportive programs and services like housekeeping, home-delivered meals, counseling, medication and transportation.
To qualify, you must be 62 years old with a very low household income, usually 50% of the area’s median income.
You typically get higher priority if you live in substandard housing, have been involuntarily displaced or are currently paying more than 50% of your income in rent.
How to Get Help Affording Housing
You may struggle to afford your current rent or mortgage payment — even if you make too much money to be eligible for subsidized housing.
You have options, too. From negotiating rent to finding help to pay your utility bill, there are other ways to make housing more affordable as costs continue to rise.
Try to Negotiate With Your Landlord
Many renters across the country are facing major price hikes this year. If you’re on a fixed income, finding extra money can be nearly impossible.
But don’t give up yet! Try to negotiate rent with your landlord first.
Your strongest bargaining chip is showing your landlord similar units in your area with lower rents.
This comparison is a good indication that you’re overpaying, and that your landlord may have a difficult time finding someone else to move in if you decide to leave.
You can also try offering something in exchange for a lower rent price. For example, offer to maintain the outdoor space, keep the lobby clean or give up a coveted parking spot in exchange for $50 off your rent.
Negotiating is never a guarantee. But it doesn’t hurt to ask either — especially if the alternative is moving out.
Use This Federal Website to Find Money-Saving Resources
Sometimes getting help with other bills can make paying rent easier.
There are hundreds of local programs nationwide that assist seniors with everything from utility bills to home repairs.
Eldercare Locator is a federal website that helps connect older Americans with trustworthy local support resources. You can also call Eldercare Locator toll-free at 800-677-1116.
By entering your city or zip code, you can find help with meals, transportation and home care. You’ll also find resources for legal services, elder abuse prevention and the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, which can help you save money on Medicare.
Get a Roommate
You may dread the idea of living with a roommate.
This is not how I envisioned my retirement.
But here’s the hard financial truth: Living alone is really expensive these days, especially in states like Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Texas, where rent prices are skyrocketing.
Finding a roommate to split the bills with is a smart way to save money.
If you own your own home, taking on a renter can help you afford the mortgage, homeowners insurance, property taxes and HOA fees.
Non-homeowners can save money on a one-bedroom apartment by renting a room from someone else or moving into a condo with a couple friends.
Nationwide online housemate search sites like SeniorHomeshare and SilverNest are specifically geared for older adults looking to coexist.
Both sites let you list your home to find potential roommates or find homeowners in search for a roomie.
There may also be local, offline homeshare matching programs for older adults in your community. Call 211 or contact your local Area Agency on Aging to inquire about this type of service.
Consider a Reverse Mortgage
A reverse mortgage is a type of loan that allows property owners ages 62 and older to convert home equity into cash.
Your home must be paid off or your mortgage balance low to qualify.
Unlike a regular mortgage, you don’t need to make monthly loan payments. Instead, your lender pays you, and your debt increases over time.
The loan is settled or repaid when you sell the home, move out or die.
Reverse mortgages are often controversial — and for good reason. If you don’t keep up with property taxes and follow other requirements, you can lose your home to foreclosure.
But for retirees who consider themselves “house rich and cash poor,” a reverse mortgage can free up money for everyday expenses.
Explore Accessory Dwelling Units
There are lots of alternative housing options out there. Accessory dwelling units are one of them.
These separate living spaces can be an affordable housing solution for seniors. They exist in many communities already.
An ADU can be converted from an existing structure — like a garage — or built from scratch.
6 Types of Accessory Dwelling Units:
- Detached backyard cottage (aka a tiny house)
- Attached addition to existing home, with separate entrance and kitchen
- Interior (upper level) attic apartment
- Interior (lower level) basement apartment
- Above-garage apartment
- Garage conversion into a full garage apartment.
Some seniors choose to create these units on their own property, then take in renters to recoup costs and supplement their retirement.
Other families work together to raise money for construction, then create a unit on an adult child’s or relative’s property.
Senior advocacy groups like AARP are big supporters of accessory dwelling units as a housing solution for older Americans.
You can check out AARP’s guide, The ABCs of ADUs, to find out more about how to build these units.
But at $75,000 or more, creating a brand new ADU isn’t exactly affordable for most people.
Organizations like Habitat for Humanity may be able to assist with construction for qualifying low-income seniors.
You can also check with your local Area Agency on Aging to see if home repair grants or assistance is available.
Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. She focuses on retirement, Medicare, investing and taxes.