Affordable Housing – Could Be Worth the Red Tape

Economic turbulence, aging Baby Boomers, and the disabled seeking independent living have increased the interest in “affordable housing.” And with good reason. Obtaining a rental officially classified by government entities as “affordable” can mean the difference between living comfortably and financial insolvency or even homelessness. The problems is that, because this rental category is highly regulated, applicants have to invest the time to understand the red tape and then wade through it. Only if the program they enter represents a significant savings to them might it be worth going through the process.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines “affordable housing” as monthly rent which consumes no more than one-third of a family’s or individual’s gross income. That could be from earning wages, public assistance, Social Security, disability payments, or a combination of those. Since the calculated rent, as at Bella Vista, New Haven, Connecticut, frequently includes utilities such as heat, there is considerably less anxiety about being able to pay for necessities. Given the unusually cold winter in New England in 2013, that savings was substantial.

Those “affordable” rental units can come in the form of HUD apartments, public housing apartments, low income apartments, subsidized apartments, and local housing authorities. They may be under the complete authority of one or more government entities, federal, state, and local. Or they could be owned and managed by a for-profit company such as Vesta, but still under multiple government jurisdictions.

Listings for all of them can be found on the Internet under keywords such as “affordable housing” merged with the name of the state such as “Connecticut.” Here is an example: Another way of finding out what’s available is through word of mouth. Those in a senior citizen club or at disability daycare are likely to give other members the scoop. Also, those checking into this option can call the rental office of a complex. Since the eligibility rules can be complex, it is useful to sit down with rental agents and be briefed in person. Then there can be a tour of sample units.

Although all are subsidized and regulated by one or more government entities, the rules vary, even among the buildings in one development. Some of the buildings or a certain number of units might be reserved only for senior citizens. In that case there could be a range of subsidized programs. The age of eligibility might be different for each complex and that could change over time for the same complex. There might be no maximum on the amount of income or assets the elderly can have. If they are significant, the aging could simply be assigned what is called “market rate.” That is likely lower than the average price of a rental in the community but higher than the usual one-third of income rents charged the low income and some disabled. At Bella Vista the market rate for the elderly was about $734 during the winter of 2013.

Applicants should be prepared to get on waiting lists for whatever developments they are eligible to rent in. There has been a chronic shortage of available affordable rentals. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, only about a third of those who qualify for them will find one available. No state has enough units. In some, such as Nevada, it is worse than in others.

In response to the severe economic downturn in which too many got behind on the rent, many affordable housing complexes have become stricter on eligibility requirements. Currently, they also take legal action quickly on late payments. Therefore, those with “bad credit” can be knocked out of the box. One way around that is to have someone with “good credit” apply for the apartment. If the rent might be late, residents would be smart to find a relative or friend to borrow it from. The powers-that-be have become unforgiving when it comes to paying the rent in full and on time.

As the economy improves, the demand for affordable housing could lessen. Also, those who have been living in it could decide to trade up to traditional rentals or even purchase a home. Both of those could free up units for other applicants.

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