How Service-Enriched Housing is Shaking Things Up

by Jeff Shaw

New programs can lower your move-outs by keeping residents happier and healthier.

By Flynann Janisse

For the last several years, seniors housing articles have largely focused on the Baby Boomer phenomenon and the massive demand for housing the population is creating. 

An estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau suggests that by 2029, 20 percent of the total U.S. population will be over the age of 65. This is a truly significant number of households that will require not only specialized housing, but also an increasing level of care to successfully age in place.

Without context, those numbers look daunting. However, a quick history lesson reminds us that, as an industry, service-enriched housing for seniors has been around longer than the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). Nearly seven decades ago, the Housing Act of 1959 established the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program to provide options for very low-income elderly persons to live independently in a service-enriched housing environment. 

During the last program review in 2008, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) acknowledged the demand for service-enriched housing was relatively high, creating waitlists sometimes exceeding two years before units were made available. 

As seen with other forms of quality, affordable housing, affordable seniors housing supply is far outstripped by demand. The industry must find solutions to ensure the same or similar opportunities for supportive services are offered in conjunction with the Section 202 program. 

Answers on the horizon

A partial answer to this came in January when HUD announced a new approach to help seniors age in place. This $15 million, three-year grant program was made available to select owners of HUD-assisted senior housing developments to help low-income seniors age in their own homes to delay, or altogether avoid, the need for a nursing facility. 

HUD’s program will cover costs related to hiring a full-time enhanced service coordinator and a part-time wellness nurse to connect the elderly with the supportive services they need. HUD is using this program as a way to collect data on the effectiveness of providing enhanced supportive services. Specifically, there are three key evaluation metrics: 

  • Aging in place in HUD-assisted seniors housing
  • Avoiding early transitions to institutional care
  • Preventing unnecessary and costly healthcare utilization, such as emergency room visits and hospitalizations

This program offers owners and property managers of seniors housing communities a blueprint for addressing the supply shortage beyond HUD’s established programs.

The service-enriched model in action

When working with older adults, the purpose is simple: provide the services necessary to help them remain independent for as long as possible. That is, to help the senior healthily age in place in the community. 

For services to be successful, there must be an established core level of services offered that improve the quality of life for residents. Services focused on community building, self-sufficiency, mental/physical health and medical support should comprise the core offerings. At seniors housing communities, self-sufficiency means everything from basic computer training to fixed-budget financial literacy. 

On-site resident services coordinators will often incorporate learning opportunities such as exercise programs with social interactions that promote friendship and camaraderie between residents. Using this core as a starting point allows coordinators to engage residents with other related programs and services, such as transportation, crisis intervention, housekeeping, grandparenting classes, fire safety and more. 

Services coordinators can also serve as liaisons between case management or medical professionals for residents as a constant, available resource to which to turn. 

Through regular outreach and engagement, this collaboration may improve quality of life and help avoid early transition into full-time nursing facilities. Combined with regular programs, such as those regarding nutritious eating habits and general physical health, seniors are constantly connected to health services.

Keep your residents engaged

As a services provider, Rainbow Housing Assistance Corp. understands older adults love to learn and stay connected. Keeping them actively engaged in learning situations helps provide purpose and keeps the mind sharp, which helps to fend off depression, dementia and other negative life-altering conditions. 

Promoting volunteerism also helps break down potential isolation barriers. By leveraging their skills, seniors may be instrumental in helping guide youth living in nearby affordable communities as well.

Well-intentioned as all the above ideas may be, there is also the consideration of cost. 

In order to truly be effective, services must deliver on the promises of stabilizing seniors in their homes. A stable tenant base directly translates into a community that is financially sound, thereby preserving it as quality, affordable housing for those who need it most. 

Much like any other multifamily property, identifying partners with proven expertise in the asset type may maximize future return on investment. This includes identifying property management, on-site staff and services providers that understand the needs of senior residents. This also requires developers to be strategic in the construction of new units or rehabilitation of existing stock to serve the aging population. 

Creative approaches to economies of scale, geographic proximity and bundling delivery are required to proliferate services.

Balancing budgets versus services

In some cases, limited funding may prohibit a community from hiring an on-site resident services coordinator. However, it will still have an essential need for programming. 

Looking forward, it is imperative that the affordable seniors housing industry begin to embrace innovative and interactive online resources, connecting the community to specifically designed programming. 

Many residents have personal internet-connected devices and a handful of states have begun to offer special subsidized broadband subscriptions to affordable communities. This allows for core programming to consistently be available to residents.

Getting older is never easy. To illustrate the effectiveness of service-enriched housing for seniors, let’s take a look at a story from one of the residents from a community that Rainbow serves on the West Coast. 

As we continue to age, many times we try to keep our minds sharp. However, often we forget just how important it is to stay active and healthy. Matilda, a resident of one of our seniors housing communities in California, takes this to heart. 

Not your typical 94-year-old, Matilda has taken an active role in guiding the programming at her community by participating in programs such as yoga, strength training and health and wellness workshops. Matilda keeps both her mind and body in excellent condition. 

Matilda also volunteers to be a coach and mentor to other seniors residing in her community. She personally educates and motivates her neighbors on how to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

This just goes to show that with the right support structure, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is possible at all ages through service-enriched housing.


Flynann Janisse is the executive director of Rainbow Housing Assistance Corp., a nonprofit organization that provides service-enriched housing programs for residents of rental housing communities throughout the country.

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