Housing Affordability


Housing cost burden affects both homeowners and renters. Almost 20 million households with adults age 50 and over spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing and are therefore considered housing cost-burdened. Approximately 9.6 million households headed by someone age 50 or older are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing. Renters are more likely than homeowners to be housing cost-burdened. Renters typically have lower incomes and face rising rents each year, whereas homeowners with fixed-rate mortgages have more predictable housing costs. Almost half of the households with older adults age 50-64 are severely cost-burdened. Conditions are worse for households with adults age 80 and older: Nearly 60 percent of those households are severely cost-burdened.

The severe shortage of affordable housing can put households at risk for homelessness (see Homelessness section of this chapter). Already nearly 565,000 people are not housed in the US each night. However, according to HUD, there are another 2.1 million households that live in severely inadequate housing. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find available, affordable housing for households at all income levels, but this is especially true for people who have extremely low and very low income, leaving them at greatest risk for homelessness.

Federal programs—the declining availability and affordability of private-market housing and the rising cost-to-income ratios for housing have increased the importance of federally-subsidized housing for older renters with low incomes who earn no more than 80 percent of the area median income (AMI). This is especially important for renters with very low incomes (who earn between 30 and 50 percent of AMI) and extremely low incomes (who earn no more than 30 percent of AMI).

Most federal housing assistance comes through HUD, but the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and the Department of Agriculture’s Section 515 rental housing programs are also significant. HUD has no office or personnel dedicated to coordinating these diverse housing programs across agencies. Because older adults occupy a substantial proportion of subsidized housing, such coordination could create better outcomes for this population.

Even with a rental subsidy it can be difficult to find appropriate housing. Those who hold Housing Choice vouchers (commonly known as Section 8 vouchers) can find it difficult to secure an apartment that accepts the voucher. It is even more difficult for people living in tight rental markets to do so, as it is for older adults and people with disabilities. The availability of suitable, affordable housing is further limited for older renters with disabilities.

Reductions in congressional appropriations have led to challenges in providing federally assisted affordable housing. This is particularly evident in markets where housing costs rise faster than inflation. Decreased federal appropriations can decrease the number of affordable units or a shift assistance away from renters with the lowest incomes.

Housing Affordability: Policy

Utility allowances

In this policy: FederalLocal

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and local public housing authorities should maintain utility allowances and ensure that these allowances keep pace with rising utility costs.

Foreclosure prevention

In this policy: FederalLocalState

State and local governments should convene foreclosure prevention task forces—composed of representatives from government, the housing industry, and groups advocating for the rights of consumers—to establish proper forms of assistance.

State and local governments should establish one-stop homeowner assistance hotlines.

States should establish assistance programs for renters who live in foreclosed properties.

States should ensure that new landlords of foreclosed properties continue to pay for utilities and maintenance.

Federal and state policymakers should ensure that in the event of foreclosure, renters are provided sufficient time to seek and find new, affordable, appropriate housing, with eviction allowed only for just cause.

Impact of foreclosures and neighborhood stabilization

In this policy: LocalState

State and local government agencies should consider the effect of multiple foreclosures on communities and develop strategies to mitigate the negative impacts on renters, homeowners, and neighborhoods.

Foreclosure mitigation strategies should consider the needs of older adults; they should provide safety, ensure service delivery, and prevent isolation.

New programs should provide for the purchase and rehabilitation of foreclosed homes both to stabilize the neighborhoods around them and as a source of additional affordable housing.

Supporting affordability

In this policy: FederalLocalState

Policymakers should enact policies that support:

  • diverse housing options that are affordable to households of different income levels;
  • the creation of private and public incentives to promote affordable housing;
  • the use of high-quality home products and materials that promote safety in affordable housing; and
  • preservation of existing affordable housing (including unsubsidized market housing that is affordable to people of lower incomes), particularly in areas with increasing costs.

Supporting accessibility and choice

In this policy: FederalLocalState

Policymakers should create incentives for developing affordable housing that promotes successful aging in place.

Improving coordination of federal housing policies

In this policy: Federal

Congress should work closely with the HUD secretary and all affected parties to consolidate programs, enabling the agency to improve service delivery, safeguard assets, and control program costs. Any reorganization of HUD and its programs should include sufficient departmental funding and staff resources.

HUD should:

  • establish a high-level office or a designated senior departmental staff officer to develop and coordinate policy on housing and services for older adults;
  • establish a high-level office or a designated senior departmental staff officer to develop and coordinate policy on housing and services for people with lower incomes;
  • develop and maintain a publicly available national database of federally subsidized housing and promote the use of this information by other agencies and local partners as appropriate;
  • develop multiyear strategic plans, annual performance plans, and annual performance reports (consistent with the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993);
  • continue to develop and award points in its competitive bidding process for projects that incorporate services and features (e.g., universal design, visitability, inclusive design, green buildings, and transit-oriented development) that permit aging in place and full access to the community; and
  • adopt and implement a measure of housing affordability that includes housing costs and transportation costs.

Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME)

In this policy: Federal

Congress should ensure that money is set aside from the CDBG program or other sources and made available to fund service coordinators and supportive housing arrangements that are affordable to frail older adults with low and moderate incomes.

Block grants established under reinvention and housing reform proposals should comply with HUD’s consolidated planning requirements. HUD should invalidate the certification of any consolidated plan that fails to address the needs of people with low incomes, racial and ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination, people with disabilities, and older adults, or that denies citizens reasonable opportunities to participate in plan development.

Congress should require HUD to withhold CDBG or HOME program funds from jurisdictions that fail to affirmatively further fair housing or remove regulatory barriers (such as inappropriate zoning) cited in the consolidated plan.

Voucher programs

In this policy: Federal

Congress should not convert into a block grant the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program or the Section 8 housing voucher program, both of which have a proven track record of good performance. Congress also should not consider the voucher program a replacement for the production of specialized supportive housing. However, vouchers may be useful in helping older adults whose diminished incomes make aging in place a challenge.

Congress should pass the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act, which would stabilize the funding formula and help ensure that the number of available vouchers is not decreased each year.

Federally subsidized housing

In this policy: Federal

Congress should encourage in any modernization legislation the development of housing units, including through Section 202 and other programs, that incorporate features (such as universal design, visitability, inclusive design, green buildings, and transit-oriented development) that permit aging in place and full access to the community.

Public housing

In this policy: Federal

Congress should provide operating subsidies and modernization funds for public housing sufficient to maintain units that can be operated in a high-quality and cost-effective manner, and to maintain long-term housing affordability. Mandated rent increases should consider the impact on all residents, including those with very low and extremely low incomes.

Congress should prevent the loss of housing assistance to older adults living in public housing that is to be demolished or disposed of, including under the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative program, through a one-for-one replacement requirement. The “right of return” allowing current residents to return to new or remodeled units should be maximized.

Congress should provide funding for and lift the cap on the number of units eligible for rental assistance demonstration (RAD) and other innovative methods of financing affordable housing.

Rental vouchers

In this policy: Federal

Congress should increase the number of vouchers available to assist renters who have severe rent burdens, with the goal of keeping assistance available to all extremely low-income older households. Assistance also should be available for payment of security deposits and the first and last months’ rent. The use of vouchers should be allowed in shared housing.

Aging in place

In this policy: FederalState

Congress and states should authorize the use of funds for modifications to enhance service delivery, accessibility, and safety from both accidents and crime for older tenants who are aging in place.

National Housing Trust Fund

In this policy: FederalState

Congress should continue dedicated ongoing funding for the National Housing Trust Fund, created by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 and any secondary market agency it creates to replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Such funding should come from ending the suspension on contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or other sources, and not come at the expense of other housing programs.

HUD should ensure that states use these funds to promote housing opportunities for people of all ages, including older adults, and should prioritize projects that support livable communities.

States should establish their own housing trust funds.

Community Reinvestment Act of 1977

In this policy: Federal

Congress should strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, particularly its consumer protection, disclosure, and rating requirements.

Housing for all

In this policy: Federal

Congress should provide funding to clarify and promote the goal of a decent, affordable home and suitable living environment for every American family.