Almshouses are charitable housing provided to enable people (typically elderly people who can no longer work to earn enough to pay rent) to live in a particular community. They are often targeted at the poor of a locality, at those from certain forms of previous employment, or their widows, and are generally maintained by a charity or the trustees of a bequest.
Almshouses — so named — are European Christian institutions. Alms are, in the Christian tradition, monies or services donated to support the poor and indigent. Almshouses were established from the 10th century in Britain, to provide a place of residence for poor, old and distressed folk. The first recorded Almshouse was founded in York by King Athelstan, and the oldest still in existence is the Hospital of St. Cross in Winchester, dating to circa 990.
Almshouses have been created throughout the period since the 10th century, up to the present day. There is no strict delineation between Almshouses and other forms of sheltered housing, although Almshouses will tend to be characterised by their charitable status and by the aim of supporting the continued independence of their residents.
The almshouses in the village of Woburn, Bedfordshire originated in a bequest by the will of Sir Francis Staunton, 1635, of £40 to the poor, and refounded by John, Duke of Bedford.
In physical form, and owing in part to the antiquity of their formation, Almshouses are often ancient buildings comprising multiple small terraced houses or apartments, and providing accommodation for small numbers of residents; some 2,600 Almshouses continue to be operated in the United Kingdom providing 30,000 dwellings for 36,000 people. In the Netherlands a number of hofjes are still functioning as accommodation for elder people (mostly women). The economics of Almshouses takes the form of the provision of subsidised accommodation, often integrated with social care resources such as wardens.