In many small towns as well as sprawling cities, low-income older adults often have few options to age in place. They may have to move out of their community, severing lifelong friend networks, to move into affordable nursing homes or live with their children. Aging in place has now become an aspiration for those with low income.
Yet, the solution, Section 202 housing – the Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program – nevertheless remains elusive. Advocates from Leading Age, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and AARP hope new funding will change that.
Accessing housing for low-income older adults
Though Section 202 housing exists all over the U.S., it remains largely unavailable in many communities. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported on 2017 HUD data that “only 34% of income-eligible seniors receive rental assistance they qualify for.” However, this year’s federal spending bill promises to fund more of this kind of senior housing. It reduces the likelihood of unnecessary institutionalization of older adults, allowing them to age in place while mitigating loneliness and physical needs. The option hopes to value independence and privacy in ways that assisted living and nursing homes often cannot.
The expansion of funding that could benefit older adults requires local advocacy. It already has support from advocacy groups like Leading Age, a community of non-profit aging services and mission-driven organizations that serve aging adults, which has called for Section 202 housing to be included in the nation’s infrastructure plans.
Section 202 housing benefits
According to a 2019 profile, 19% of adults in the U.S. age 65 and older reported they could not function at all or had a lot of difficulty with at least one of six functioning domains: sight, hearing, mobility, communication, cognition and self-care:
- 22% reported trouble seeing (even if wearing glasses)
- 31% reported difficulty hearing (even if wearing hearing aids)
- 40% reported trouble with mobility (walking or climbing stairs)
- 8% reported difficulty with communication (understanding or being understood by others)
- 27% reported trouble with cognition (remembering or concentrating)
- 9% reported difficulty with self-care (such as washing all over or dressing)
Section 202 housing serves those populations because it requires buildings to be designed or repurposed to address the specific needs of the aging population, including food, laundry and cleaning accommodations. Furthermore, the profile reported that 13% of people age 65 and older reported taking prescription medicine for feelings of worry, nervousness, or anxiety and 12% reported taking prescription medicine for depression. Designated housing like Section 202 housing may help to mitigate feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression.
How to find Section 202 housing
So, how do seniors find this housing and what does it take to qualify? According to Keepspushingback.com, the first steps are to check qualifications: Total household income should be as low as 50% of the median income of the area, and one member of the household or more must be at least 62 years old. No citizenship or eligible immigration status documentation is required at this time.
Some stipulations preventing eligibility include prior eviction from HUD housing within the last five years, prior termination of assistance by a housing authority for any reason, debt to a housing authority, and criminal records.
Next, go to lowincomehousing.us to find housing in the area. Again, suitable housing shortages plague many communities, so remember that if Section 202 doesn’t exist, Section 8 housing may be an option, which may look like vouchers for older adults to live in subsidized housing. Follow the instructions for applying, including the application process and a possible interview. As always, it’s helpful to take along a trusted friend or family member to help with the process.
Many communities may not have Section 202 housing yet. Now is the time for advocates and caregivers to ask their members of Congress for continued funding and support for next year. Older adults in the U.S. will remain healthier and more active with intentional communities that give them a chance to engage with peers daily, connect with physical activities, have services that accommodate their physical needs, and even opportunities proven to extend their vivacity and health.