One of the most critical access issues for grandparents and other relatives and the children they raise is the lack of affordable housing.
Although housing is an issue for many Americans, grandparent and other relative caregivers face certain unique barriers:
- They frequently take on caregiving responsibilities with absolutely no warning, let alone with 9 months to plan.
- Many of these caregivers live on fixed incomes and/or in small apartments and houses that are not suitable for children.
- They may no longer be able to afford their apartments or houses after assuming the extra expenses of raising children.
- Many caregivers are physically unable to walk stairs with children and strollers.
- If they live in senior housing where children are often not allowed, they may be subject to eviction if the children are discovered.
- The presence of additional children may violate their private lease agreements.
- If they do not have legal custody of the children, they are frequently unable to convince the housing authorities to recognize their need for larger apartments.
Lack of Legal Custody
Throughout the country, this last category of barriers -- the lack of legal custody -- is a serious issue for many grandfamilies. Some housing authorities are unlawfully requiring relatives to have legal custody or guardianship of the children in order to qualify as ‘families’ for assisted housing. Many relatives lack legal relationships with the children due to a variety of factors, including the costs of legal proceedings and potential disruption of family dynamics.
Housing authorities require legal custody or guardianship to attempt to prevent fraud, like an applicant who misrepresents that he or she is raising children in order to request additional bedrooms. These fraud concerns can be legitimate, but addressing them by requiring legal relationships is not.
Although HUD has not issued specific policy on this issue, federal law is clear. The Fair Housing Act defines ‘familial status’ to include grandparents and other relatives without legal custody of the children in the second part of its definition:
"Familial status" means one or more individuals (who have attained the age of 18 years) being domiciled with
(1) a parent or another person having legal custody of such individual or individuals; or
(2) the designee of such parent or other personhaving custody, with the written permission of such parent of other person. 
HUD includes in its Occupancy Handbook ways to verify family composition that address fraud concerns without requiring legal custody or guardianship:
A. Owners may seek verification of family composition only if the owner has a clear, written policy. Verification is not required.
B. Owners may use a policy to verify family composition to determine whether children reside in the household 50 percent or more of the time, as well as to determine the appropriate unit size for the family …
C. If an owner determines it necessary to verify family composition, information may be collected from sources listed in Appendix 3.
According to that Appendix, acceptable sources of verification are birth certificates; divorce actions; drivers’ licenses; employer records; income tax returns; marriage certificates; school records; social security administration records; social service agency records; support payment records; utility bills; and Veteran Administration records. Basically, documents that show the child is living with the relative.
Once jurisdictions are made aware of HUD policy on this issue, they have often stopped requiring legal custody or guardianship.
GOVERNMENT ASSISTED HOUSING OPTIONS FOR GRANDFAMILIES
Currently many grandparent and other relative-headed families qualify for several types of government assisted housing. However, these families face a severe shortage of safe, affordable housing as do most other low income populations. The lack of reasonably priced, large, two or more bedroom units is an increasing problem as the public housing system increasingly relies on the Section 8 voucher program for the provision of housing to low income people.  Furthermore, even when assisted housing is available, often it is not designed with relative-headed families in mind, does not include special features for both older people and children, and rarely has supportive services to help with the multiple barriers these families often encounter.
HOUSING DEVELOPMENTS SPECIFICALLY FOR GRANDFAMILIES
In response to the limited housing options for grandparents and other relatives raising children, a few nonprofit developers and public housing authorities have relied on various public and/or private financing sources to specifically design housing developments for the families. In 1998, the first housing program for grandparents raising grandchildren, known as GrandFamilies House, opened in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Many lessons were learned from this pioneer and seven years later, in 2005, the first new ground-up construction for grandparents raising grandchildren started serving families in the South Bronx, New York.
That development – known as GrandParent Family Apartments – has 50 apartments (40 two-bedroom and 10 three-bedroom) in a six-story, 66,470 square-foot building. The apartments and building are designed to respond to the needs of older caregivers, youth, and children. Design elements include wide hallways, emergency buzzers in each unit, handrails in the bathrooms and hallways, laundry facilities on each floor, and extensive community space with separate rooms for caregivers, youth, and young children. In that space, comprehensive on-site services are available, including educational before- and after-school activities, support groups, and case management. The development also features 24 hour security, including multiple staff at the front desk verifying identities and cross referencing visitors with court orders.
Since GrandParent Family Apartments opened, several other developments around the country have started serving the families, and other groups are contemplating building their own grandfamily housing with services on-site. For more information, see Generations United's 2019 State of Grandfamilies Report on affordable housing.