Service Coordinators – A Plus for Affordable Senior Housing

Multi-family properties with federal assistance can benefit greatly from the presence of an on-site service coordinator. These coordinators provide supportive services and act as advocates for vulnerable residents. These coordinators are members of the management team and play a significant role in keeping at-risk residents housed and healthy.

According to a report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, during the recent pandemic, 40% of the residents at properties served by Service Coordinators “ did not have the food, medicine or household supplies they would need to isolate for a week.” It was the service coordinators who handled the procurement and distribution of food, medicine, and household goods for these residents.

If you operate a federally assisted site for older adults or the disabled, your property could benefit greatly from a service coordinator – if you do not already have one. In this article, I will provide an overview of HUD’s Senior Coordinator in Multifamily Housing Services Program. I will explain the benefits of having a service coordinator on staff, what a service coordinator does, and funding sources for such a position.

HUD’s Service Coordinator Program

HUD established its Service Coordinators in Multifamily Housing Program (SCMF) in 1990. HUD has the authority to use Section 8 funds to employ service coordinators in most HUD-assisted and conventional public housing developments designated for the elderly and disabled.

Primary guidance for the program may be found in the SCMF Resource Guide. This guide supplements the HUD Management Agent Handbook 4381.5, REV-2, CHG-2. The resource guide may be found at https://files. Service-Coordinators-in-Multifamily-Housing-Program-Resource-Guide.pdf.

Service coordinators provide seven key functions:

  1. Proactively engage with residents. The coordinators make it a priority to build relationships with residents through frequent interactions that are formal and informal.
  2. Conduct assessments and develop service plans. They conduct annual assessments with residents and use this assessment information to develop plans for making referrals and helping residents obtain services and resources.
  3. Develop a propertywide profile. The coordinator will create a picture of resident needs across the housing community and develop responsive, community-wide programming.
  4. Establish partnerships with community-based service organizations.
  5. Make referrals for support services. Coordinators will also monitor whether residents have followed up on those referrals.
  6. Educate and advocate for residents. The coordinator will organize onsite educational events provided by community-based organizations.
  7. Coordinate closely with other project staff. The coordinators are active members of the site management team and will meet regularly with other staff to share information and discuss issues that affect the residents.

Benefits of Service Coordinators

A primary benefit of a service coordinator is linking residents to needed social services. This is an important part of keeping the elderly in their homes and aging in place. These service coordinators are full-time staff members with specialized training in linking residents with the services they need.

Services that can be arranged include:

  • home-delivered meals;
  • transportation;
  • public assistance such as Medicaid, food stamps/SNAP, and Medicare Part D prescription drug plan;
  • home healthcare;
  • house cleaning services; and
  • assistance with medical bills or insurance claims.

According to the American Association of Service Coordinators (AASC), in 2021, 93 percent of residents with service coordinators continued living independently instead of moving to facilities with higher care levels. This not only provides a significant benefit to residents but also helps prevent costly evictions.

Who is Eligible for a Service Coordinator?

HUD-assisted housing sites that are designated for older adults and people with disabilities are eligible to participate in the Service Coordinators in Multifamily Housing Program. There are two main funding sources for the Service Coordinators in Multifamily Housing Program:

  • Operating Budget: residual receipts, budget-based rent increases, and debt service savings may be used to fund the coordinator position. The service coordinator becomes a permanent part of the management team, and the cost of the service coordinator program becomes a standard budget expense.
    • Owners must obtain HUD approval to add a service coordinator program to any site’s budget, regardless of whether or not an increase in rental rates is proposed.
    • Owners of Section 202 PRAC projects can include a service coordinator program in their operating budget at any time after the project is fully occupied.
    • HUD may approve the use of residual receipts to fund some or all of a site’s service coordinator program.
    • Owners with funds in their residual receipt accounts must use all available residual receipts prior to receiving any service coordinator grant funds.
  • HUD Grants: Owners may apply for grants awarded through a HUD-issued Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA). Service coordinator grants are made for an initial three-year term and provide funding for the salary, fringe benefits, and related administrative costs associated with employing a service coordinator. Grants are renewed annually thereafter if no other funding source is available to cover costs.

Program Monitoring

All service coordinator programs in multifamily housing are expected to adhere to the same requirements as outlined in the SCMF Program Resource Guide. HUD conducts monitoring reviews of service coordinator programs to ensure they serve their intended purpose.

The frequency of reviews will depend on the nature of a site’s day-to-day operations and service coordinator program activities.

Staffing the Positions

A site owner will hire a service coordinator through job listings like any other staff. The hiring of qualified professionals is critical to the success of the SCMF program.

In general, there should be one full-time service coordinator for every 50 to 100 residents. However, at sites with large numbers of residents with mental health conditions or other high needs, a smaller ratio may be appropriate.

What do Service Coordinators Not Do?

  • Provide direct services;
  • Act as recreation or activity directors;
  • Duplicate existing community services;
  • Provide nursing care;
  • Handle resident funds;
  • Manage leasing agents;
  • Provide transportation to residents;
  • Organize or lead resident organizations; or
  • Act of Power of Attorney for residents.

Service Coordinator Qualifications

Minimum requirements for Service Coordinators include –

  • A bachelor’s degree in social work or a degree in psychology or counseling, preferably; however, individuals without a degree but with appropriate work experience may be hired;
  • Two to three years experience in providing social services to families;
  • Demonstrated working knowledge of social services and resources in your area; and
  • Demonstrated ability to advocate, organize, problem-solve, and “provide results” for families.

Training in cultural competency and bilingual skills are also assets for many service coordination positions, and in larger properties, service coordinator aides are often hired to assist the coordinator. Aides should have appropriate education or experience working with elderly people and/or persons with disabilities.      College students working towards a degree in social work, or a health-related field may look to gain hands-on experience and may be able to receive academic credit for an internship or work-study program.

Service Coordinator Training Requirements

All new-hire service coordinators must have met a minimum of 36       training hours of classroom/seminar time before hiring or must complete these minimum training requirements within 12 months of initial hiring, on age-related and disability issues.

Recently completed college courses on aging, mental health, or other relevant topics relating to the needs of the residents may be counted toward the 36-hour training requirement.

HUD requires service coordinators to remain current on changing statutes at all levels of government and current practices in aging and/or disability issues. Service coordinators should receive 12     hours of continuing education each year, and fair housing training is a must.

Bottom Line

Every HUD property that serves the elderly or disabled can benefit from the services of a service coordinator. If your property does not currently have a service coordinator, serious thought should be given to creating the position either through the current project budget or by applying in the next round of HUD funding.