Living in the Right Place in Your Old Age: Sorting through the Types of Housing Available for the Elderly

By ,  Keaton Schmitt , Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Spring 2021

Living in the Right Place in Your Old Age: Sorting through the Types of Housing Available for the Elderly


If you, or a loved one, is aging, it can be difficult to determine what type of elder-friendly living facility, if any, is right for them. Seniors require different levels of assistance or care. Because of this, there are a large variety of communities and living arrangements that may be ideal for the needs of any one person. Sorting through the vast amount of housing types can be tiring, and even if the type of housing you want is known, it can be difficult to find a proper facility in your area. Below is a brief summary of the types of housing available that one might consider, as well as some resources to locate facilities in your area.

Independent Living Apartments

Contrary to common perception, communities for seniors do not necessarily all provide care or view seniors as incapable of independent living. For example, Independent Living Apartments (“ILAs”) are functionally communities of normal apartments where residents live independently and are responsible for their own daily life activities such as cooking. However, ILAs exclusively house seniors, which allows for a greater sense of shared cultural community. ILAs may also hold social events, planned outings such as shopping, or other events to bring residents together. ILAs can be a good option for seniors who wish to be around others similar to themselves but who are fully capable of living independently. Because they do not provide medical or care services, ILAs are not licensed or regulated by the government, and are more similar to standard apartment communities.[i]

Assisted Living

Assisted Living facilities are designed for seniors who require daily help with their care and general maintenance, but do not require as much care as someone in a nursing home. There are a large variety of types of assisting living, which can cause some confusion. Typically, but not always, seniors in Assisted Living facilities live in their own independent apartments and share common areas such as a dining rooms. Assisted Living facilities usually offer many levels of care, alongside the many types of assisted living available. Below is a short summary of some types of assisted living. Note due to the large variety of types of assisted living, arrangements may vary state to state.[ii]

Enriched Housing

Enriched housing is somewhat similar to ILAs, but they are organized for seniors who need a little more assistance each day. In Enriched Housing, residents still live in independent housing units, like an apartment, but they are provided with at least one meal a day by the facility. Residents may also be given other assistance or services throughout the day. Because Enriched Housing facilities provide services, they are licensed by the state.[iii]

Adult Homes

Adult Homes provide a greater level of day-to-day care than Enriched Housing. Typically, Adult Homes provide supervision, three meals a day, and housekeeping services. Adult Homes are designed for residents unable to live independently.[iv]

Assisted Living Program (“ALPs”)
            ALPs provide their residents with care and assistance, super as supervision, but are designed for seniors who do not require the 24/7 care of a Nursing home. Typically, ALPs provide nursing services through an outside agency and assist their residents with their daily routines.[v]

Nursing Homes

Nursing Homes are perhaps what one most often thinks about when they think of elderly living. Nursing Homes are designed for residents who can no longer live independently and require 24/7 care. Typically, they offer a wide range of services like as medical care, or assistance with daily living activities such as eating, laundry, bathing, and cleaning. Some nursing homes may also offer physical rehabilitation for residents who are suffering from physical degeneration. Not everyone who enters a nursing home stays there permanently, and some residents simply enter a nursing home for a short time after a surgery or other event to recover.[vi]

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (“CCRCs”)

CCRCs, also called Lifecare Communities, are facilities that offer a large variety of senior living situations along the spectrum of care. Functionally, they are facilities that offer independent apartment living, assisted living, or nursing home care all in one location. Residents of a CCRC can transfer from one type of living, such as independent apartment living, to another that provides greater care and assistance, such as Assisted Living, without changing location. This allows a resident to “age in place” and maintain familiar surroundings.[vii]

Searching for Senior Housing, such as Assisted Living or a Nursing Home

The Virginia Department of Social Services provides a portal where one can search for a state licensed Assisted Living Facility by Zip Code or Location.[viii]

Unfortunately, the State does not appear to provide a similar portal to locate nursing homes in your area. However, Elders’ Rights Groups within the state maintain resources to not only find a facility but also guides on how to choose between multiple facilities.[ix]