Growing Number of Assisted and Unassisted Seniors

The Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC) released “2020 Housing Impact Report: Seniors,” which finds that 2.9 million seniors lived in publicly supported housing in 2019, a 2.9% increase since 2018. PAHRC estimates that 3.6 million additional seniors likely qualify for rental assistance but do not receive it, and that between 2017 and 2018, the number of eligible seniors grew by 5.6%.

The report examines the senior population living in public housing and in units funded by the Housing Choice Voucher program (HCV), project-based Section 8, Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans with affordability restrictions, special-purpose voucher programs, and state programs. The analysis is based on resident demographic data gathered from HUD’s Picture of Subsidized Households, HUD’s Resident Characteristics Report, USDA’s Multifamily Housing Occupancy Report, and NLIHC and PAHRC’s National Housing Preservation Database.

The authors document that one-third of households in publicly supported housing are headed by seniors, and in nearly half of these senior-headed households, the head of the household has a disability. The share of older households admitted to public housing and the HCV program has risen in recent years: from 2013 to 2017, the percentage of senior-headed households admitted to public housing grew from 16% to 20%. Housing subsidies lifted 665,000 people over the age of 65 out of poverty in 2018, an increase of 1.7% over the previous year.

While housing subsidies are serving more seniors, the number of low-income seniors who are eligible but unserved has increased. The share of eligible seniors who receive housing assistance declined from 41% to 40% from 2017 to 2018. Similarly, the length of time senior households spent on public housing and HCV waiting lists increased by 18% between 2016 and 2017.

The report also examines how housing assistance serves “pre-seniors” (adults between age 55 and 61). Many households nearing senior status face health challenges and decreased employment. Low-income pre-seniors receiving housing assistance have rates of food and healthcare insecurity that are slightly higher than assisted seniors. PAHRC estimates that publicly supported housing assists more than 950,000 low-income pre-seniors. The authors observe that many housing providers are now collaborating with healthcare providers to offer in-home health services to seniors and that many pre-senior households could benefit from similar programs.

The full report can be accessed here: