Better Aging in Place: Florida Housing Offers Funding to Test New Initiative to Upgrade Older Senior Properties

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Florida Housing Finance Corporation (Florida Housing) is testing a new initiative to fund the renovation and retrofit of an older senior rental property in its portfolio to make it more supportive and user-friendly for the existing elderly residents so that they can better “age in place.”

The initiative is part of a broader Request For Applications (RFA) issued by the corporation in late August, which solicited applications by September 18 for State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) program gap funds, tax-exempt financing, and 4% federal low-income housing tax credits to finance the construction or acquisition/rehabilitation of affordable multifamily rental housing properties for families and seniors.

Two applications were submitted for Florida Housing’s “Elderly Transformation Preservation” initiative, for proposed projects in Jacksonville and New Port Richey, Fla. Florida Housing’s Policy Director Nancy Muller anticipated that the Corporation’s Board of Directors will approve funding for up to one of these at its next meeting on October 30. “We want to start small in this pilot and see what we learn,” she says.

The idea behind the initiative is that many older senior properties financed by Florida Housing are now occupied by numerous aged and frail residents, but lack the physical characteristics and robust services to enable these individuals to continue living where they are independently for an extended period. But with physical modifications to the properties and apartments and added services and other supports, aging residents should be able to stay in place longer and avoid premature moves to an assisted living facility or nursing home.

“We don’t see a lot of subsidized affordable properties in our portfolio that have the supports to allow people to age in place,” says Muller. She stated that while the median age of residents in Florida Housing’s newer senior properties seems to be in the 60s, the median age for the kinds of properties targeted by the pilot program is “more like in the high 60s and low 70s.”

Eligibility for funding under the new initiative is limited to existing developments that:

  • Received SAIL or federal HOME funds and/or competitive (9%) or non-competitive (4%) housing tax credits from Florida Housing through an application submitted before 1999;
  • Set aside at least 80% of the units for elderly residents;
  • Currently have and commit to provide at least 135 units;
  • Aren’t part of a scattered-site development; and,
  • Didn’t close on HUD or USDA Rural Development funding after 2004 where the budget was at least $10,000 per unit for rehabilitation in any year.

The initiative establishes minimum demographic and set-aside requirements for proposed developments. These include restricting 100% of the units for residents age 62 or older (younger current residents are grandfathered), limiting income-restricted units to residents making 60% or less of the area median income, setting side at least 15% of units for extremely low-income (ELI) households, and setting aside at least 20% of the units for frail elderly persons. The latter are individuals who need assistance from community-based supportive or home health service providers to perform at least two activities of daily living: personal care, upkeep of the home, meal preparation, managing medications, shopping, handling finances, and using transportation.

The RFA initiative establishes five separate point categories for scoring applications: experience developing elderly affordable housing; experience operating and managing elderly rental housing with supportive services and assistance with urgent issues; enhancing resident community-based services, program, and benefits coordination; on-site health and wellness services; and access to community-based services and resources. Applicants had to describe their qualifications and the proposed development, including plans for services, service partners, and access to community resources.

For example, points are available for 24/7 management support to assist residents in handling urgent issues, and for having an on-site nurse who will conduct wellness activities, such as health, mental health and functional assessments and health education, monitoring of vital signs, coordinating with health care providers, and assisting with medication management and monitoring of transitions by residents returning from hospital visits.

Proposed developments must meet specific design and physical requirements as part of the rehabilitation, in order to make the property, common areas, and apartments more user-friendly for seniors, especially those with mobility limitations. Among the requirements for apartments are: lever handles on doors and faucets; horizontal grab bars around the bathtub and/or shower; and a minimum of 60 inches across of unobstructed space in the living room and one bedroom to accommodate the use of a wheelchair or walker.

The RFA offers funding only for the housing development costs. Applicants are responsible for procuring partners to provide or make services available to residents. “The whole focus of this is around coordinating with partners out in the community,” says Muller. For example, she said a partner might be a local hospital system that provides home health care or doctor or nurse visits to the property, or an organization that sends home health care aides who check on residents and work with an on-site resident coordinator. She indicated that Medicare and Medicaid will cover some or all of the health-related services.

“The idea of this pilot,” Muller states, “is to look for ways, just short of licensing, where residents can get the supports they need to stay in their home. The objective is to promote better resident outcomes.”

(To view RFA, go to