Senior housing is a relatively new idea. Older people used to live with their children and their families --- or at least close by. Beginning in the 1950s, though, more adults moved away from their hometowns and regions and their parents retired to sunnier climes. As the Baby Boom generation ages, even more demand will be generated for senior housing --- communities designed for the needs of aging adults. Many communities establish their own eligibility requirements and rules, but local, state and federal governments also have a say when public money is involved.
Senior housing is single or multifamily housing designed for older adults, with consideration of their physical needs and preferences. The demand for senior housing and the use of grants for construction and individual rentals from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have made uniform eligibility requirements necessary.
Senior communities were pioneered in the Sunbelt and each community set eligibility requirements. Senior housing built to a more moderate-income standard using HUD grants followed federal standards. Today, many cities, suburbs and rural towns in the Northern states have at least one senior housing development.
State and Local Requirements
Most states and municipalities use federal block grants to fund senior housing projects, so eligibility requirements must be consistent with federal standards. Many give preference to persons over 62 years old. Some have income requirements and many require a financial "needs assessment" to determine rent for residents.
Senior housing may charge no more than one third of a resident's total income if the resident is receiving housing assistance from HUD. These residents must prove that their income falls below federal poverty levels or be recipients of Social Security disability payments to qualify for assistance. Seniors who do not receive assistance are not required to meet financial qualifying levels. However, housing that receives HUD money must maintain a certain percentage of assisted residents so those paying full price may end up on waiting lists.
Standards for seniors-only housing were established by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color or national origin and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968, which added sex, familial status or disability. Exemptions from the "familial" clause were granted to facilities that submitted to HUD inspection, provided special services and facilities and were occupied only by persons 62 years of age or older (or where no less than 80 percent of the units were occupied by persons 55 years of age or older). The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 required accessibility and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 banned age discrimination.
The Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (HOPA) eliminated the requirement for "special" services and facilities, opening the way for many senior housing programs to require basic mobility and life skills of potential residents. It incorporated the 80 percent FHA rule, making the effective age requirement either 55 or 62, depending on state and local regulations.
Federal public housing assistance is often used by residents of fraternal or religious senior housing facilities. Private groups may set their own income or age eligibility requirements but they may not be more restrictive if they receive taxpayer funds through HUD or other federal programs or if any of their residents use state, municipal or HUD housing assistance. They may prefer that residents be members of their organization or church but they may not discriminate against non-members.