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Low-Income Assisted Living Options: A Guide on Where to Live and How to Pay

14 minute readLast updated June 16, 2023
Written by Kevin Ryan, senior living writer
Reviewed by Carol Bradley Bursack, NCCDP-certified dementia support group facilitatorAuthor Carol Bradley Bursack spent two decades as a primary caregiver to seven elders and is also a newspaper columnist, blogger, and expert on aging.
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Given the rising costs of living, low-income seniors find challenges not only in paying their rent or mortgage but also in figuring out how to pay for health care and support with daily activities. Assisted living provides assistance with personal tasks like bathing and dressing while also offering apartment-style housing. However, at a median cost of  $4,995 per month, according to A Place for Mom’s 2024 Cost of Long-Term Care and Senior Living Report, the price tag for these communities is often out of reach. The good news is there are several financial assistance programs and a variety of low-income assisted living options for seniors.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Many seniors’ only source of income is Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Millions live on less than $26,000 per year from SSI benefits and rely on support from public programs.
  2. Medicaid waiver programs can provide affordable care options in some states. These waivers are managed by state governments and therefore vary depending on where you live.
  3. HUD offers assistance programs for low-income seniors. The Housing Choice Voucher Program provides rental assistance, and Section 202 offers low-income assisted living.
  4. The low-income threshold in the U.S. is set at 150% over the poverty line. In most states, an individual is considered low-income if they make less than $20,385 annually.

How can I pay for assisted living with no money?

A graphic that provides a brief overview of options for low income assisted living and financial assistance

In the United States, over 16 million people aged 65 and older struggle to live on less than $26,000 annually[01], and many who rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) receive just $554 per month.[02]

However, from government-sponsored health insurance to programs designed and operated by private, nonprofit organizations, seniors seeking low-income living assistance have several paths to choose from. The options may vary from state to state, but using a combination of the following resources may help you create the best affordable assisted living solution for your loved one.

Here are several ways low-income seniors can pay for assisted living:

  • Medicare
  • Medicaid
  • Medicaid waivers
  • Veterans benefits
  • Social Security
  • United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs

For families with a loved one currently in assisted living who doesn’t have the financial resources to pay indefinitely, many of these options can help them plan for future care.


Medicare is a national, government-funded health insurance program for people age 65 and older. While Medicare can’t be used to pay for room and board at an assisted living community, it may cover some of the health care costs provided at such facilities.

Medicare can often be used for short-term care after an illness or injury in a patient’s home or nursing home. It may also cover services like occupational therapy and other rehabilitation therapies, either at a senior’s home or in a senior living community.


Administered by individual states, Medicaid provides health coverage to low-income and disabled seniors. State Medicaid programs may cover some long-term care expenses like home health services, nursing home care, and hospice care. To qualify for certain Medicaid programs, a senior must show both a functional and financial need.

It’s important to note that Medicaid does not cover the cost of basic room and board in assisted living the way it does for residents of nursing homes. However, Medicaid may provide financial support for some personal care services — such as bathing and dressing — in assisted living, as long as the community accepts Medicaid.

The specific amount that Medicaid will pay for care services varies for each individual and state. Certain states may impose copayments, coinsurance, deductibles, and other similar charges for nonemergency services based on an individual’s income. And because eligibility is based on a person’s income, Medicaid may be a good option for seniors whose finances are dwindling due to paying for the costs of care.[03]

Medicaid waivers

Medicaid waivers offer states the opportunity to create a variety of service options that aren’t available under Medicaid’s general federal guidelines. In some states, these waivers can extend additional services to individuals who are eligible.

While each state can customize the waivers as they see fit, there are two waiver programs that tend to be the most common:

  • The Medicaid Home and Community Based Service (HCBS) waiver is used by states to create community-based programs for individuals who can live independently but need support with daily activities. HCBS can include care in the home or in a Medicaid-certified assisted living community.[04]
  • The Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) provides low-income seniors with a team of health care professionals. This PACE team helps individuals meet their health care needs while remaining in their own homes, rather than going to a long-term care facility.[05]

Veterans benefits

Eligible veterans and their surviving spouses can use the VA Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits to help them pay for long-term care. Both of these benefits provide supplemental income to a senior’s VA pension to assist in covering the cost of care. Veterans must meet specific service, financial, and clinical requirements to qualify for the VA’s long-term care benefits.

It’s important to note, however, that a veteran can’t receive Aid and Attendance and the Housebound allowance at the same time.[06]

If your veteran is male, you can learn about specific tips and insights from our guide to senior living for elderly men.

Social Security

The minimum monthly payment of $914 that many individuals 65+ receive through Supplemental Security Income may not go far, considering that the average price tag of an assisted living community can often stretch to over $4,000 each month. However, SSI can be combined with other services and aid programs to help pay for the assistance your loved one needs.

Income, living situation, personal assets, and the state you live in can affect SSI benefits. Some states add to minimum federal contributions, which may increase monthly benefits. Meanwhile, individuals with a qualifying disability may receive additional benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).[07]

Can you afford assisted living?

Let our free assessment guide you to the best senior living options, tailored to your budget.

Assisted living options through HUD

In many states, low-income seniors may find that government housing options fit their housing and care needs. HUD offers rental assistance programs and provides aid to local housing agencies to create housing options for seniors with a low income. Keep in mind that there’s usually a waiting list, so it’s important to apply well before you have a crucial need for care.

Does Section 8 pay for assisted living?

No, Section 8 (now called the Housing Choice Voucher Program) does not pay for assisted living, but it does provide assistance for low-income individuals and families, regardless of age.

Families qualify for this program if they make less than 50% of the median income for the area where they live. Qualified families are responsible for finding their own housing, and they can search anywhere as long as the building owner agrees to rent under the program.[08]

HUD Section 202

Section 202 housing was developed for low-income seniors and helps them live independently, often by including supportive services. Operated by private, nonprofit organizations, Section 202 housing allows seniors who qualify for the program to pay as little as 30% of their income toward rent.

In states that have Section 202-designated buildings, many of these buildings will offer assistance with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, cooking, and cleaning. Some may even offer 24-hour skilled nursing care.[09]

HUD Section 811

HUD Section 811 is similar to Section 202 but is specific to all people with disabilities, regardless of age. As with Section 202, Section 811 living options are operated by private, nonprofit organizations. Rent for qualified seniors starts at 30% of their adjusted income.

Some states have Section 811 buildings or homes set up to support the diverse needs of people living with disabilities. Comparable to assisted living facilities, Section 811 buildings may offer on-site care along with services such as transportation, housekeeping, and meal preparation.[10]

For families interested in learning more about Section 811, Section 202, or Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) programs, the nearest HUD regional office or a local Area Agency on Aging can provide more information on the various HUD programs in your area.

Affordable assisted living and services to help keep costs down

Depending on your loved one’s care requirements, there may be affordable assisted living options, including private homes with on-site care — called residential care homes — or living with family. There are also in-home care services that allow seniors to age in place. Consider these common options as a stand-alone solution, or combine several of these for a customized approach to fit your family’s unique needs.

Aging at home

Low-income seniors who would prefer to live in their current home may have access to a variety of support options. In addition to using HUD programs to help them pay rent, they may be eligible to use a combination of Medicaid and Medicare to pay for in-home care services that support them with daily activities and health care.

In many states, Medicaid programs can be used to help pay for in-home care, which can be customized to a senior’s needs and lifestyle. In-home caregivers can provide personal care, such as bathing and dressing, or offer companionship with frequent visits to play games, have conversations, or help with cooking. For seniors who need help getting out of the house, in-home caregivers can arrange transportation to attend events, activities, or appointments.

Many private, nonprofit organizations also offer low-cost and free support services for low-income seniors who live independently at home. For example, Meals on Wheels, a national organization that operates in most states, not only delivers food to homebound seniors but also offers some companionship services.

Living with family

Living with family can be an option for low-income seniors who are unable to live alone safely. Family members can offer support with activities of daily living, transportation, and social interaction.

Some families may qualify for HUD vouchers or programs to help them pay rent. And like the support offered to low-income seniors who live alone, federal and state health insurance may help provide in-home and medical care to supplement the care provided by family.

Residential care homes

The homelike setting of residential care homes offers an intimate environment where residents can receive personalized care. While many of these communities provide similar services and amenities to larger assisted living facilities, they’re often a less expensive option, depending on location.

Private nonprofit support programs

In many states, there are nonprofit programs that can help supplement living costs for low-income seniors. For example, in Denver, Colorado, the “Area Agency on Aging provides funding for senior care and services such as meal programs, transportation, and home health,” said Shannon Gimbel, regional manager at the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

Expert advice for affordable assisted living

Tell us your care needs to receive options tailored to your budget.

How to determine income status

Low-income status is set at 150% above the poverty line. In most states, for an individual to be considered low-income, their annual income must fall below $21,870.[11] In Alaska and Hawaii, the low-income threshold is slightly higher due to higher cost of living in those states.

When it comes to applying for income-driven programs, many states and cities provide services that guide families by helping them determine assets and income and by assisting them through the application processes.

Finding assistance for your family

Community resources that can guide people through the processes of applying for aid and finding assistance are available in most states and cities.

Many cities have a public housing authority (PHA) office, which can help your family navigate the public housing options in your area that are available for low-income seniors. Local PHA offices may also offer to help you determine income status and apply for HUD programs that your loved one may qualify for.

If you’re unsure of where to start, Senior Living Advisors at A Place for Mom can help you determine your assets and the types of senior living options you can afford. They can also provide guidance as you’re searching for home care agencies, all at no cost to your family.


  1. The National Council on Aging. (2022, July 15). Get the facts on economic security for seniors.

  2. Social Security Administration. (2023, May). Research, Statistics & Policy Analysis.

  3. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Cost sharing out of pocket costs.

  4. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (2022, November 15). State Medicaid plans and waivers.

  5. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly.

  6. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2022, October 12). VA Aid and Attendance benefits and Housebound allowance.

  7. Social Security Administration. (2023). You May Be Able to Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

  8. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Housing choice vouchers fact sheet.

  9. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Section 202 supportive housing for the elderly program.

  10. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Section 811 supportive housing for persons with disabilities.

  11. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. (2022, January 12). HHS Poverty Guidelines for 2023.

Meet the Author
Kevin Ryan, senior living writer

Kevin Ryan is a content specialist at A Place for Mom, focused on home care topics that include defining the differences between home care and other senior care types, home care costs, and how to pay. Kevin’s desire to support seniors and their families stems from his previous career as a teacher, plus his experience as a writer and community journalist.

Edited by

Leah Hallstrom

Reviewed by

Carol Bradley Bursack, NCCDP-certified dementia support group facilitator

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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