Extra care housing aims to meet the housing, care and support needs of older people, while helping them to maintain their independence in their own private accommodation. It has been viewed as a possible alternative, or even a replacement for residential care. In 2003, the Department of Health announced capital funding to support the development of extra care housing and made the receipt of funding conditional on participating in an evaluative study. This paper presents findings on the characteristics of the residents at the time of moving in, drawing on information collected from the 19 schemes in the evaluation, and a recent comparable study of residents who moved into care homes providing personal care. Overall, the people who moved into extra care were younger and much less physically and cognitively impaired than those who moved into care homes. However, the prevalence of the medical conditions examined was more similar for the two groups, and several of the schemes had a significant minority of residents with high levels of dependence on the Barthel Index of Activities of Daily Living. In contrast, levels of severe cognitive impairment were much lower in all schemes than the overall figure for residents of care homes, even among schemes designed specifically to provide for residents with dementia. The results suggest that, although extra care housing may be operating as an alternative to care homes for some individuals, it is providing for a wider population, who may be making a planned move rather than reacting to a crisis. While extra care supports residents with problems of cognitive functioning, most schemes appear to prefer residents to move in when they can become familiar with their new accommodation before the development of more severe cognitive impairment.