Affordable Housing: Resident Resources during COVID-19

Regulation | April 20, 2020 | by Juliana Bilowich

A recap of federal resources available to help elderly residents of affordable housing navigate COVID-19.

Life is very different now than it was two months ago. Housing providers continue to support older adults in their communities by adapting services and coordinating community supports. Here is highlight of key federal resources for affordable housing residents dealing with the health and economic crisis:

  1. Cash Assistance

On March 27th, Congress enacted a law to provide direct cash assistance to individuals and households under certain incomes. Because these “economic impact payments,” or stimulus checks, are technically advance tax credits, the funds are not counted toward income when housing providers determine tenant rent payments or housing program eligibility.

How do residents access their economic impact payment? After advocacy by LeadingAge and our partners, most low-income seniors are getting these stimulus funds automatically, without having to take action, even if they don’t normally file tax returns.

To learn more about the stimulus checks and how to receive them, view our recent article on federal stimulus check guidance updates, or visit www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments for more information.

In addition to the stimulus checks, if an elderly resident has lost earned income due to the crisis, the new law also authorized extra unemployment insurance payments. Per April 16th guidance from HUD’s Office of Multifamily Housing, payments received through the recent federal enhancements to unemployment insurance are also not counted toward income.

  1. Telehealth Options

Affordable housing communities have taken strict measures to limit traffic in and out of building. As many residents self-isolate and non-essential visitors are turned away, seniors still need access to both routine and emergency medical care.

Many remote health access options have been expanded under recent laws, including the ability to visit with a medical professional through an audio/visual platform from a phone or computer. In some cases, medical providers can offer audio-only health appointments over the phone. Older adults are encouraged to contact their medical provider to learn about their options, and staff in affordable housing can preemptively help residents with technology questions.

  1. Nutrition Assistance

Access to food has become a critical obstacle for many residents. Some communities have connected with their Area Agency on Aging for nutrition and other services. In fact, Congress recently expanded the funding available for these kinds of nutrition programs, while also expanding the flexibility to administer or access the service.

Residents and affordable housing staff can check with their local services providers to see how nutrition programs have been adapted to continue serving food insecure older adults throughout the crisis.

  1. Housing and Rent Protections

On March 27th, 2020, Congress also enacted a nationwide “evictions” moratorium for residents of affordable housing programs, including HUD-assisted housing, rural housing, and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit properties. This means that for 120 days, residents cannot be evicted for not paying their rent. However, while housing providers can’t take adverse action against a resident during this time period because of non-payment, the tenant rent is still due each month. In April, 2020, HUD's Office of Multifamily Housing issued a tenant rent brochure explaining the protections, responsibilities, and options for residents under the CARES Act.

In addition, residents of HUD-assisted housing can make use of the “interim income recertification” process to lower their rent payments if their income has gone down. The federal agency has made electronic options available to complete the recertification process with as little face-to-face interaction as possible.