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      Five Sure Steps to Qualify for Low-Income Senior Housing

      senior women giving high fives

      One sure thing can be said of low-income senior housing, there is demand. And when demand is high and the number of units is low, you know that there will be competition. Thousands of people every day apply for this limited supply and the number of applicants is steadily rising. The way to ensure the highest chance of obtaining a unit is to do everything that you can to qualify.

      In this article we are going to explore the qualification process for the three most accessed public programs for low-income senior housing: HUD’s Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly (Section 202), HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program (LIHTC).

      Of the three programs, two of them (Section 202 and HCVP) are funded and administered through the Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Although the application process is different for each of the three, the qualifications are very similar. The third program, LIHTC, also must adhere to guidelines set forth by HUD in determining eligibility, but there can be subtle differences in application processing and qualification requirements.

      In the next few sections, we are going to go through the 5 steps that you will need to take in order to move through the qualification process of finding low-income senior housing as efficiently as possible. Understanding these steps will not only help to improve your success but will also help you to manage the application process better and reduce the stress that will likely come from it.


      Step 1: Know What to Expect When Applying for Low-Income Senior Housing

      Expect to wait. Patience is going to be required because it will be a long journey. If you are in a hurry then you will need to understand what the process is, what will be expected from you, and what you can do to speed up the process.

      Although the process for applying will vary with each of these programs, the qualification requirements remain almost the same. All of these programs will strictly adhere to the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.  Congress legislates the tenant qualification criteria, HUD governs the qualification procedures, and HUD enforces the adherence of tenant selection by each of the programs.

      Know Where and How to Apply:

      For Section 202 and the LIHTC Program the qualification and application process will begin at a selected community. A tenant simply calls or emails a community they are interested in. For the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the process will begin within a local Public Housing Authority (PHA). Although the Housing Choice Voucher Program begins at the PHA, the application process doesn’t begin until the applicant has secured a spot on the Open Enrollment waiting list. For details about that process and how to begin the steps to it, please read How to Navigate the Housing Choice Voucher Program topic.

      Know What to Look For:

      Appropriate Household size

      Although a tenant may find a community with apartments they are interested in, the units must be the appropriate size for the household. Most housing projects will put a cap of no more than two people per bedroom but require that each bedroom has at least one person. Generally speaking, a 2 bedroom unit is usually not available to a one-person household and a five-person household is not typically eligible for a 2 bedroom unit.

      Rental Prices

      For Section 202 and HCVP, the rent amount is determined by the household’s income. Generally, it is just slightly less than 30% of the monthly income. So, if a single tenant had a monthly income of $1,200 the rent would be somewhere around $350. If you’d like to figure out what your rent would be in one of these types of units, we give a very detailed breakdown of how to figure rent amounts in both the Low-Income Communities That Care topic and the How to Navigate HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program topic for each of those programs.

       LIHTC communities calculate their rent much differently. Each unit is assigned a low income threshold which is used for determining tenant eligibility as well as for computing rent. The threshold is based on the Area Median Income (AMI). Some of the LIHTC units may be set to house tenants that meet the 60% income threshold (tenant only makes 60% of the area’s average income), some may be set at 50%, and others may be set as low as 30%. A community will post what percent income level each unit is for. So, if a tenant only makes half of the area’s average income (50%), the tenant would need to rent a unit that was set to 50% or higher and would not be eligible to rent a lower income unit. Rent then, is computed at 30% of the unit’s annual income threshold and divided by 12 to get the monthly rent. For example, if the area’s average income were $60,000 and the unit’s threshold was set to 50%, the household could not earn more than $30,000 (which is $2,500 per month) to qualify for the unit. And, since the unit’s threshold is 50%, the rent charged would be 30% of $2,500, which would be $750 per month. No matter who lives in the unit and what the household income were, the rent would still be the same. We go into greater details for computing rent in an LIHTC unit in our How Does LIHTC work for Seniors? topic.

      Step 2: Understand Senior Low-Income Housing Eligibility Criteria and Qualifications

      Know the Income Limits

      Applicant household income must not exceed the low income limits set forth by the programs for which they are applying. If a senior makes too much money they will not be eligible for the program. But what are those limits?

      Section 202 and HCVP require that an applicant’s income be considered Low Income, Very Low Income, or Extremely Low Income. Income Levels for each is listed below:

      • Low Income: 60% of Median Family Income for a family of 4
      • Very Low Income: 50% of Median Family Income for a family of 4
      • Extremely Low Income: 30% of Median Family Income for a family of 4

      LIHTC has units that it assigns an income level to which typically range from Low Income to Extremely Low Income. LIHTC will set up income limits for each unit. Each can differ but they are usually anywhere from 30% to 60% of the area's median income.

      If you’d like to compare your annual income to HUD’s Income Level Limits you can see what each area’s income limits are on the HUD Portal.

      Know How Assets Affect the Income Limits

      During the financial information gathering portion of the application process the interviewer will also ask about financial assets. Some assets, particularly those that distribute funds regularly, are counted toward the household income.

      The unit for which the household is applying must be the household’s only residence.  If a residence is owned by any member of the household it must be sold or legally transferred prior to moving into a unit.

      Be ready to show documentation for any household’s assets, like bank statements and tax returns, and make certain that homes are sold at fair market value prior to the interview.

      Establish Your Ability to Pay

      During the application process, an applicant will be required to bring in documentation verifying the monthly income to ensure that eligibility criteria are met. The income is also used to determine the amount of excess money that is left after all monthly obligations are met. Each household must make at  least two times the amount of the rent in order for the applicant to be financially eligible for the unit.

      Repair Any Financial History Issues in Advance

      All programs are required to run a complete history and verify the applicant’s information. During that time, an in-depth credit report and credit history will be run. Tenant applicants and all income generating household members will be evaluated on their past financial history. Those who have a poor credit history, have been evicted due to non-payment, or have bankruptcy with restitution may see their applications denied.

      Take the time to talk with past debtors to clear up any bad credit marks. Call around to past landlords to see if they will give you a good reference. Sometimes a quick call can clear up a misunderstanding that would have otherwise prevented the application’s approval.

      Dealing With Past Behaviors of Household Members

      If an applicant left a unit, whether it be a section 202 unit, another HUD property, or any other property, without proper notification, the community is not likely to approve the application. Make sure that if this has happened in your past you can provide some type of evidence as to why this occurred.

      If a resident was evicted for any other reason besides non-payment, it is likely that the community manager will want to have full details of why the eviction occurred. If you have been evicted for any reason make sure to give a full account of what happened and be willing to provide references to back up your side of the story.

      Resident applicants will also be screened for poor behavioral patterns. Residents who have a history of abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual misconduct, or aggressiveness toward past neighbors are also likely to have their applications rejected.

      Another area that will be evaluated is the applicant’s ability to maintain the well-being of the property. If an applicant has been evicted due to unit destruction, has left behind quite a bit of damage to a previously rented unit, or failed to maintain a household that was reasonably clean and safe, the application will, most likely, be not be approved.

      If a member of the household has displayed poor past behaviors or has a history of abusive or destructive behavior it is important that the individual get access to the counseling they need in order to deal with some of the underlying causes. Sometimes just showing that steps have been taken to correct the issues will help. If, however, a household member’s behavior can not be corrected and that household member is not essential toward income eligibility it may be best to try to secure housing without the individual.

      Have a Clean Criminal History

      Applicants are required to submit to a criminal background check and will be required you disclose any criminal history at the time of application. In addition to the history that applicants’ provide, interviewers will also search public records, social media, and personal and professional references to ensure that no serious criminal offenses are on record. An example of the types of offenses not permitted are:

      • Drug-Related Crimes
      • Crimes against Persons
      • Sex Offenses
      • Financial fraud, identity theft or forgery
      • Any criminal behavior that would affect the safety and security of the community, tenants or staff

      Even without a criminal history, evidence of some criminal behaviors and lifestyle behaviors can result in a rejected application. Applicants that have a history of drug abuse, that have been evicted from a prior unit due to drug use, or that engage in any criminal drug activity, including the sale and distribution of illegal drugs, will not qualify for any of the programs.

      Make sure that all household members have a clean and clear criminal past. If there are blemishes look into your state’s law for expunging, or clearing, public knowledge of past offenses. There are many states that are researching and adopting “Clean Slate” laws to give individuals with past offenses the opportunity for a fresh start.

      Make Sure All Household Members Can Qualify

      All members of the low income unit’s application must meet the above criteria in order for the household to be awarded an approval. Each household member over the age of eighteen must sign an authorization to release confidential information so that the above criteria can be verified.

      For all HUD programs, all household members must be able to verify their citizenship or provide legal immigration papers. There are some LIHTC communities that do not rely on HUD contributions and do not have to impose this restriction, although most will.

      Make sure to bring in all required documentation for your interview, including proof of citizenship. If proof can not be provided the application will be denied.

      Step 3: Seniors Need to Be Prepared

      When an applicant first contacts an agency or community to let them know of their interest to apply, they will likely receive an application by mail. The interviewer will ask the applicant to fill out the application and either send it back to them via first class mail, or they will ask the applicant to bring it with them to the interview along with a list of supportive documents that will be used to determine eligibility.

      At the beginning of the application process, if there is a waiting list, an applicant may only be required to furnish a preliminary amount of information at first. This is called pre-application and it is only used to determine if the applicant is obviously unqualified, so as to prevent unnecessary time spent on an applicant that does not meet the most basic requirements, like age and income. If this occurs, the application is not considered accepted even if the applicant earns a space on the waiting list.

      The interviewer will request a list of certain documents. Be sure to have all items ready to furnish when you apply. Each household will have different needs and different circumstances, but an example of some of the items that will be requested is as follows:

      • Completed Application
      • Driver’s licenses
      • Birth Certificates
      • Social Security Cards
      • All income statements, tax records, and banking statements are needed for each member of the household
      • All expense information like credit card statements, car payments, and medical bills for each member of the household
      • Information (name, date of birth, occupation, etc.) for each member of the household
      • Mobility access requirements if special needs are required
      • Proof of necessity of live-in aid by physician letter if a live-in aid is required
      • Any supportive documents of past issues where proof can provide clarification

      At any time during the waiting process, an applicant’s actions can have consequences regarding eligibility and approval. Make sure to keep all necessary information up to date and continue to maintain a good record of eligibility while you wait.

      How Affordable Senior Housing Verifies Applicant Information:

      • Present and former housing providers
      • Present and former employers
      • Background criminal checks
      • Credit checks
      • Parole officers, court records, Social workers, etc.
      • The Social Security Administration
      • Medicaid/Medicare
      • Law Enforcement agencies
      • Nation Sex offender registries
      • Personal references

      Step 4: Be Flexible

      The entire qualification process for the applicant as well as the interviewer is time-intensive, complicated, and difficult. You will be asked to provide information and documentation regarding your history that may, sometimes, be difficult to obtain. You may find some items frustrating to locate and have to dig around to find them. You may have to contact references and past employers and spend a great deal of time playing phone tag. It is important to understand that all of that is a part of the process.

      The time that interviewers take to verify information can be slow. They also have to rely on call-backs and unresponsive employers and landlords to gather the information that HUD requires them to gather to ensure that all of the information is correct and verified. Sometimes documents will be lost, mailed items will fail to show and information that you may have submitted once may have to be submitted a second time.

      The best thing to do here is to be aware that it isn’t a perfect process, that patience will be required, and to anticipate that there will be bumps in the road ahead. Flexibility and patience will help to make the process easier and more manageable for everyone involved.

      Another thing to keep in mind is that some units are very difficult to obtain. In a largely populated area, there are a greater number of applicants so waiting lists can get extraordinarily long. If time is of the essence, make sure to apply at as many communities or programs as possible, even if the program or community is not what is preferred. Many times, once a person is in the system, it is much easier to move around that system after approval has been granted. For example, in Section 202 communities some areas have a very great demand. But rural areas may have plenty of space. If time is limited, securing a unit in an outlying area in one unit can help you to qualify faster at another community once an opening occurs.

      Step 5: Follow Up

      Keep in mind that there are thousands of people applying for low income senior housing every day and the supplies are greatly limited. From the time that you apply to the time that you are offered a unit can, in some cases, take years. During this time it is important to follow up.

      Any piece of information on the application or gathered during the interview that has changed must be kept up to date. Make a note on the calendar to regularly follow up with the unit(s) or Program(s) that you have applied for to gauge if any new information needs to be provided.

      Where to Go From Here

      Now that you know what to expect and how to apply, it’s time to locate something that best fits you or your loved one’s needs. For detailed information about each of these programs please see in-depth program information by selecting one of the programs below:

      Take a look at all of the lovely Low-Income Senior Housing Apartments that we have listed on Senioridy:

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