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Congregate Housing

Why Supportive Housing?, The Federal Congregate Housing Services Program, Looking To The Future

The term congregate housing has both generic and specific meanings. Generically, it refers to multiplex-unit, usually planned, supportive housing for older people (and younger people with disabilities) who need or want assistance with daily activities. Seen as a more independent option than an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, congregate housing typically provides services such as housekeeping, meal preparation, and personal care, and frequently offers the opportunity for a congregate meal. Settings vary, however. For example, the site may have few or many units. It may be freestanding or part of a larger complex. Units may be fully equipped apartments or single rooms. Property management may be separate from or linked to services management. Services may be available to all residents or to a subset. Costs for housing or services, or both, may be publicly subsidized or require a fee.

In its more specific form, the term refers to certain federal- and state-funded programs for people with low incomes and significant needs for assistance with daily activities. These programs are typically located in rent-subsidized housing, follow specific procedures for assessing residents' needs and delivering or arranging services, and limit residents' costs (usually capped at 30 percent of income for rent and 20 percent for services).

This entry discusses supportive housing generally, then highlights the federal Congregate Housing Services Program (CHSP). The entry focuses on residential options for people with low incomes—because their needs are greatest and their options most limited. However, it should be noted that middle-income older people have few supportive housing options. They have too many resources to qualify for publicly subsidized programs, and too few to afford the $2500-plus per month costs of the more upscale supportive housing options (many of which could be described as assisted living facilities or retirement communities). Some private-pay retirement homes, often owned and operated by municipalities or nonprofit organizations, are relatively affordable, with monthly costs averaging $900 to $1500 for rent and a supportive services package that usually includes meals and housekeeping. Since nearly three-quarters of older people have incomes under $32,000 per year, even these "affordable" options are too expensive for many.

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