Senior Housing: An Exception To The Rule

by Perry Pillow, AATC's Director of Government Affairs

The Fair Housing Act protects current and potential renters from discrimination based on: race, sex, religion, color, national origin, disability, or familial status (legalese for families with children). You’ve heard “every rule has an exception” more times than you care to remember. When it comes to federal fair housing rules, there is a very significant exception to familial status: senior (55 years and older) housing.

Federal law exempts senior housing facilities and communities from liability for familial status discrimination. In other words, multifamily properties can legally refuse to rent units to families with minor children (under 18 years of age), if the property rents exclusively to individuals 55 years of age or older.

To qualify as a “senior housing”: 1) all residents must be 62 years of age or older or 80% of the units must have at least one occupant who is 55 years of age or older; 2) the property must comply with HUD age verification regulations; and ensure that the property establishes and adheres to policies and procedures that substantiate its intent to operate as a “55 or older” property.

Obviously, this 55 or older exemption does not mean that senior properties are exempt from other aspects of fair housing (i.e. discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, or national origin.)

Senior housing is not the same as assisted living. An assisted living community may qualify as senior housing, but senior housing is not required to offer special services to individuals with disabilities. Enacted in 1995, the Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA) removed the original 55 and older exemption’s requirement that properties provide “significant services and facilities specifically designed to meet the physical and social needs of older persons.”

Senior housing continues to gain support from city and school district officials throughout Tarrant County. City and school officials are actively seeking ways to encourage market-rate senior-only developments on land zoned for multifamily.

Municipal elected and career officials perceive market-rate senior-only properties as low-crime, well-maintained, property tax generating, low-traffic, economic development catalysts. These policymakers believe that high-end 55 and older properties attract low-density commercial development: physician offices; allied healthcare providers; neighbor retail; professional services, etc. School administrators (who do not control zoning/land use) champion seniors properties because these communities do not add additional school-age children.

While “affordable” senior housing properties offer the same perceived benefits, there remains resistance from neighborhood activists and elected officials to any potential development that has an affordable-housing component.

AATC members Churchill Residential, Pace Realty, and Alpha Barnes (among others) own or operate senior properties throughout Tarrant County. AATC along with Lisa Rogers, Robert Tinning, Hugh Cobb and the Evergreen at Hulen Bend staff graciously hosted Congresswoman Kay Granger (R – TX12) at their site. This meeting was an opportunity for Rep, Granger to tour a senior living property, meet the residents, and learn more about the positive impact this type of development has on a community. While at the property, Rep. Granger joined the residents in the club room for a game of bean-bag baseball.

With an aging population and a trend that citizens are aging-in-place, the demand for all types of senior housing in Tarrant County is expected to increase. City officials want it. Members of Congress appreciate it. AATC members provide it. An exceptional win-win.