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How to Find Low-Income Assisted Living on a Fixed Budget

Learn how to find low-income senior living on a fixed budget with tips from Seniorly. Get help finding low-income assisted living and other types of care.

By Seniorly Editor · Updated Sep 21, 2021

Although most seniors will need long-term care at some point, many don’t manage to save enough money for retirement. Per Seniorly data, the average cost of assisted living in 2020 is $3,931. This could be prohibitively expensive to seniors on a fixed income. Moreover, this average includes much higher costs in popular urban areas. All senior citizens deserve to be taken care of in old age, including those who have lower incomes. Many seniors rely on government subsidies, such as Social Security, which can make finding affordable senior housing and care challenging.

Most  assisted living facilities offer a range of services that can help make life easier for the elderly, but unfortunately they often come with a steep price tag. Searching for the right low-income senior living community can be challenging, but finding it can be worth it for both your pocketbook and quality long-term care.

What does “low income” mean?

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets dollar amount limits to define “low income” and “very low income.” These income limits are used to determine the income eligibility of applicants for Public Housing, Section 8, and other programs. The limits are partly defined by family size and the area you live in, since the cost of living can vary so widely across the country. Larger families can have a larger income and still be considered low or very low income, depending on where they live.

  • “low income” refers to a family income that is 80 percent of the median family income for the area
  • “very low income” refers to a family income that is 50 percent of the median family income for the area

(The median is the value that separates the higher half from the lower half of a data sample. You could think of it as the “halfway point” or middle value in a range of numbers. This is a more accurate way of setting income standards than an average, which might skew very high in some areas and very low in others.)

If the median salary in a senior’s home county is, for example, $43,000, then a senior would need an income of $34,400 (80% of the median) to qualify as low income (and $21,500 to qualify as very low income). When HUD and other government agencies evaluate your income eligibility they look at all income streams including retirement accounts, real estate, IRAs, insurance annuities, Social Security, and pensions.

Types of low-income senior living options

There are a few different types of low-income housing options available to seniors and the elderly. Different options will be determined by income requirements, age and medical needs, as well as availability and wait lists.

  • Senior apartments: These apartment-living options can provide a budget-friendly housing and senior community option to elders. Senior apartments are typically designed for those seniors that can still live independently, however. They can offer socialization opportunities and freedom from home maintenance and housekeeping, but they do not provide assisted living services.
  • Subsidized senior housing: Sponsored programs with HUD and other government entities can assist with costs and care for seniors.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Options

Fortunately, the  government can help to subsidize senior housing, beyond Social Security benefits. Here’s a quick breakdown of the HUD housing options:

  1. Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC): HUD participants can offer seniors low-income housing by setting aside a specific number of units. Seniors can qualify if they meet the HUD income requirements.
  2. Housing Choice Voucher Program: This is the Section 8 housing option where individual income must not exceed 50% of the medium income in the local area.
  3. Section 202 Supportive Housing Program: This is a HUD-sponsored program specific to seniors (adults over 62 years of age) that meet a “very low income” requirement. Section 202 properties are typically large apartment-like buildings owned and operated by non-profits. This state funded assisted living program can provide housekeeping services, meals, and transportation to qualifying seniors and people with disabilities, as well as other activities like fitness programs or art therapy. Section 202 housing can be excellent options but typically have long waiting lists.

How to qualify for government funded assisted living options

According to a SF Gate study of local senior citizens, “Federal statistics show that a quarter of the country's senior citizens are poor, a third say it's hard to meet monthly expenses, and nearly half say they have housing problems. In some places, this translates into cramming in with family, or at worst, homelessness.” Fortunately, there are viable housing options for low income seniors looking for assisted living communities.

Each low-income senior housing option has different guidelines, income limits, and eligibility requirements and must be evaluated independently. To get some help with finding options in your area, contact your local Area Agency on Aging.

Can Veteran’s benefits be used towards assisted living?

A Veteran’s benefit called Aid and Attendance can be used by seniors who need help assisted living-type care. Qualifying seniors who need help with activities of daily living (getting dressed, bathing, toileting, etc.) can use Aid and Attendance to receive this level of care in facilities or personal care at home. These seniors must be low income according to VA guidelines in order to qualify for this benefit however.

[Read More: Assisted Living Benefits for Veterans]

Can Medicaid help with assisted living?

Although Medicaid can offer assistance towards the type of services provided by assisted living, it does not pay for community rent itself. State waivers are exceptions to this, but their coverage and requirements vary from state to state. And although many states do offer Medicaid waivers that can help with assisted living costs, not all do. Below is one example of a state’s assisted living waiver—contact your local Medicaid office to learn more about what’s available in your state.

California Medi-Cal low-income assisted living support

Luckily for California state residents, Medi-Cal provides benefits to the elderly and financial support for low-income assisted living options. According to California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, the new Assisted Living Waiver (ALW) allows Medi-Cal to be able to pay for assisted living care for qualified residents.As noted on the website, “A key goal of the program was to enable low-income, Medi-Cal eligible seniors and persons with disabilities, who would otherwise require nursing facility services, to remain in or relocate to a community setting in a Residential Care Facility for the Elderly (RCFE) or public subsidized housing.”

The Medi-Cal affordable housing program allows people in need to find suitable assisted living services, regardless of their background or financial status. Services provided for Medi-Cal ALW participants:

  • Personal assistance and help with daily living activities
  • Laundry services
  • Housekeeping services
  • Skilled nursing care
  • Daily meals and drinks/snacks
  • Transportation
  • Recreational activities
  • Social services

In terms of payment, participants in the ALW program will pay for their own room and board at the chosen assisted living community, while Medi-Cal will pay for medical care and other services. According to the California Assisted Living Association (CALA), the total payment standard for Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) and State Supplementary Program (SSP) is $1,173.37 for non-medical out of home care. This payment standard covers the following expenses:

  • Room and board: $505.37
  • Care and supervision: $534
  • Basic services: $1039.37
  • Personal and incidental needs: $134

For more information on who qualifies for low-income assisted living support and how to apply, contact the California Department of Health Care Services or the appropriate department in your home state. Everyone deserves quality care in their old age.

More resources and support services

Although low-income senior care options are not as widely available as they should be, there are programs and services that can help you find the help you or your loved one. If you’d like assistance finding affordable senior housing, contact your local HUD rental office. Additionally, we've put together lists of local resources in a number of big cities. These resources can help seniors and caregivers get in touch with local experts who can help you navigate government-funded assisted living programs and figuring out whether your loved one qualifies for aid. These local organizations and services can also offer fun activities, support, and the opportunity to meet other seniors and caretakers. Take a look to see if your city is on our list.

City-specific resources for low-income senior living and beyond

Arizona senior resources

Phoenix Senior Resource Guide

Tuscon Senior Resource Guide

Scottsdale Senior Resource Guide

California senior resources

Los Angeles Senior Resource Guide

San Diego Senior Resource Guide

San Francisco Senior Resource Guide

San Jose Senior Resource Guide

Florida senior resources

Jacksonville Senior Resource Guide

Miami Senior Resource Guide

Naples Senior Resource Guide

Orlando Senior Resource Guide

Sarasota Senior Resource Guide

Tampa Senior Resource Guide

Texas senior resources

Dallas Senior Resource Guide

Houston Senior Resource Guide

San Antonio Senior Resource Guide

Other cities

Chicago Senior Resource Guide

Las Vegas Senior Resource Guide

New York Senior Resource Guide

Philadelphia Senior Resource Guide

Portland Senior Resource Guide

Raleigh Senior Resource Guide

Richmond Senior Resource Guide

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