Courtesy of Deb Miller, JD,

volunteer with WVSLA

Home is where the heart is, regardless of our age.

But seniors have additional concerns about their housing, including personal safety, costs and living independently.

If you need more convenient housing because your house has too many steps, the plumbing is shot or driving everywhere is no longer easy to do, there are housing programs that can help with your rent, based on your income.

In West Virginia, the federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) subsidized housing choices for those 62 and older have helped many who are facing more and more everyday living challenges.

Also, the Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program provides rental assistance for seniors living in USDA-financed rural rental housing.

Housing standards under these federal programs are highly regulated. Regulations provide multiple protections for the tenants, and their location may result in easier access to needed services.

As is true of all federally supported senior housing, each person is permitted to have one house pet. West Virginia law does not contain that protection at the present time, but federal law does.

Both HUD and USDA programs have their own internal resolution methods and requirements for any housing issues the tenant may have. They can avoid a trip to court to resolve the issue.

What is known as "tax credit housing" adds to the options available for seniors. There is no rent subsidy from the government in this type of housing, but the cost to rent is lower for eligible tenants because of the tax credits provided to the property's developers.

However, such tax credit housing units have fewer rules applying to the landlord-tenant relationship and is not as favorable to the tenant as other programs. To handle any problems the landlord won't fix generally means complaining to the local housing authority or suing the landlord in magistrate or circuit court.

Many are under the impression that owning a home or having other assets will disqualify them for senior housing. Instead, the value of the assets or home will affect the amount of rent to be paid. Of course, there is an upper limit for such assets, but they can be higher than for other federal programs, such as Medicaid.

Typically, most of us think of senior housing as being apartments located in a specific building. Since such buildings are not available everywhere, there is also a program using a "housing choice voucher" which allows a person to live in a private home as long as all habitability standards are complied with. The homeowner must accept the amount of rent set by the government and be willing to comply with federal standards. There are also periodic inspections of the home and the potential for changing regulations.

Regardless of the type of housing program, a security deposit can be required from tenants under West Virginia law to cover damages to the property when the tenant moves out.

Questions relating to low income housing or other senior issues can be answered at no charge by calling West Virginia Senior Legal Aid's toll-free number at 800-229-5068. You must be a West Virginia resident and age 60 or older to speak with the staff attorney.