Saturday, August 23, 2008

Senior Housing: an overview (what I can find out quickly, anyway)

I am finding a lot of confusion on the web on the subject of “senior apartments” or age-restricted communities. Despite popular conception, there is no “one shoe fits all feet” rule for how they work, and prices and amenities for senior housing can vary considerably from one are of the country to another.

The underlying legislation (relating to the “age discrimination” allowed to set up seniors-only communities) appears to be the “Housing For Older Persons Act of 1995” (“HOPA”), Public Law 104-76, 104th Congress, link (PDF) here.

The rules are complex, and the law deregulated things a bit. Generally, senior apartments don’t have to supply a long list of amenities, but investor interest and market competition often encourages builders and property management to offer them, including, for example, cable and high speed Internet, as well as social amenities. Over time, as baby boomers mature and are more independent and information and computer literate, property management is likely to cater to their needs and market demands.

“Low rent” senior apartments should not be confused with Section 8 Housing, which has to do with vouchers and complicated social housing programs related to poverty or low income in general. In many cases, an apartment offers a secure and comfortable apartment at lower that prevailing market rent with minimum and maximum incomes. But the practice varies from one community or state to another. In Virginia, there are nice communities where the qualifying income is about twice the rent, designed for social security. In Texas, according to Apartment Selector, the requirement is often three times the rent. Qualifying minimum and maximums depend on local laws, terms of bond issues, contracts made by builders with local governments, and the like. Sometimes cosigner arrangements, or total assets are considered as well as montly income. Rental qualification requirements may tend to be politically influenced. Communities with high senior populations may offer better deals, because of political pressures from seniors as voters. In some areas, there are “moderate income” apartments and then “snob” developments for the wealthy, who still often prefer age-restricted living. This isn’t necessarily bad, as you have the “Trump Effect”; developers who find profit in building high end properties may become familiar enough with a market to become interested in developing moderate income properties as well.

Another complicating fact is that, in the senior market, the availability of access to increased assistance or nursing care greatly affects price. Some properties are “apartments only” and offer social activities but no services normally called “assisted living”. The offer of custodial or nursing services on the premises (even if an individual resident doesn’t need them) tends to increase the rent rapidly.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HID) maintains some web pages, that to a novice seem a bit scattered and confusing. One of the main pages is “Fair Housing – It’s Your Right”, here. It discusses the provisions of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the 1995 law for seniors. The “Senior Housing Information Center” page (here)doesn’t seem to say a lot.

One of the best non-government websites is “Senior Resource” with a conceptual overview of senior apartments here. It explains two levels of restriction. For age 55, at least one person in a household must be 55 or older, and at least 80% of the residents must be 55 or older. If the age cutoff is 62, then everyone must be 62 or older. Communities may vary widely as to the mix of properties available for rent.

I haven’t found any one database or website that lists properties nationwide, along with rents, qualifications, and amenities. That would be a nice service for an Internet company to develop, wouldn’t it. Maybe the MLS could develop a service like this.

Another resource for senior apartments in many states is "Apartment Guide", here.

And a resource that may help with utilities and especially cable and Internet is called "All Connect", here.

Picture: A community in south Arlington, VA (not necessarily senior, just a neighborhood).

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