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Housing Vouchers Work: Helping Seniors, People with Disabilities Afford Homes That Meet Their Needs

This is the next post in our “Housing Vouchers Work” blog series, which provides the latest facts and figures about the Housing Choice Voucher program, the largest rental assistance program to help families with children, working people, seniors, and people with disabilities afford decent, stable housing.

Some 4 million low-income households headed by seniors or people with disabilities pay over half of their income for rent and utilities, the latest American Community Survey data show. Yet affordability is only one of the challenges they face: in order to age in place or otherwise live independently in the community of their choice, many seniors and people with disabilities require housing that has special accessibility features or ready access to nearby health and other services. The Housing Choice Voucher Program plays an important role in meeting these needs, helping over 1.2 million seniors and people with disabilities — more than any other rental assistance program — to afford decent homes.

Most low-income seniors and people with disabilities live on fixed incomes that often fail to keep pace with rising rents. The poorest among them typically rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), for example, which offered a maximum monthly benefit of $733 in 2016 — well below the average “fair market rent” of $861 for a one-bedroom apartment.

Many seniors and people with disabilities also require housing with accessibility features such as wheelchair access and single-floor living units, as well as ready access to health services, case managers, or other services. Such services can enable frail elderly and people with disabilities to remain healthy and live independently and integrated in their communities, rather than in expensive nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.

The number of seniors and people with disabilities confronting such challenges is expected to grow dramatically in coming decades. By 2025, 2.4 million senior households will pay over 50 percent of their income for rent and utilities — an increase of over 40 percent from 2015.

Housing vouchers provide flexible aid to meet these diverse needs. Voucher households’ rent is typically set at 30 percent of their income, a level that’s affordable even for those living on very low fixed incomes. In addition, vouchers allow seniors and people with disabilities to choose among a wide range of housing types and locations in the private market, including units close to health care, public transportation, grocery stores, and other services, as well as families and other loved ones.

Housing Choice Vouchers give seniors and people with disabilities the opportunity to secure affordable homes that best meet their needs. But, due to funding limitations, just over a third of seniors and fewer than half of people with disabilities who are eligible for federal rental assistance receive it. To help more of these households afford a decent home in the community of their choice, policymakers should make it a priority to expand the funding of housing vouchers.