Five years ago, Linda was a stable homeowner with two of her grandchildren living with her — or so she thought.
“What happened to me could happen to anyone,” she told those who attended a City of Centennial panel on affordable senior …
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“What happened to me could happen to anyone,” she told those who attended a City of Centennial panel on affordable senior housing on Nov. 18. “Five years ago, I was ordering off the left side of the menu. I wasn’t planning on being a stroke victim.”
Linda, who asked that her last name not be used, lost her home to foreclosure during the recession and after her stroke.
“Being poor is very, very expensive,” she said.
According to Denver Regional Council of Governments data, there are 35,000 households in the metro area headed by people 65 and older making less than $20,000 a year who pay more than 50 percent of that for housing.
“It’s not going to go away, it’s going to increase,” said Pat Coyle of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, adding that Colorado is aging at double the rate of the national average.
That equals a crisis of significant proportions, said the panelists, one that local housing authorities simply can’t cope with on their own. Chris Shaffner, director of South Metro Housing Options, said 74 percent of his 600-plus units are occupied by seniors, with an additional 500 or so on his waiting list, which is closed.
“Frankly, we were offering help that just doesn’t exist for the next two years,” he said. “The folks that strike me the most are the ones who just don’t see it coming.”
Many seniors feel secure in their homes but don’t consider what would happen if their spouse died, or if they found themselves unable to care for the house or even themselves at some point. The market has anticipated the need for senior housing, and private buildings are cropping up all over the place. But those can run upward of $3,500 a month.
“Not a single person I work with can afford these places,” said Missy Griggs, case manager supervisor at DRCOG. Many people only get enough Social Security to cover their rent, she said, and many end up living with family, in shelters or even on the streets.
“We’re going to have to start getting really creative to get people out of their cars, off people’s couches and into stable housing,” said Griggs.
If they’re lucky enough to get on a waiting list for affordable housing, some get on Medicare and enter assisted living, even if they don’t need it, until their number comes up.
“This is not a solution,” said Griggs.
In fact, it’s bad for the economy of the entire state, impacting health-care costs, food banks, crime rates, transportation, the tax base, education and on and on.
“People are not equipped to live as long as people are living today,” said Jeff Martinez of Brothers Redevelopment, a nonprofit that helps meet housing needs for low-income, senior and disabled residents.
All panelists agreed that no one agency can solve the problem on its own, and that partnerships and creativity are the way to go. Housing authorities might put more of a focus on serving people in their own homes, for example, or matching people for roommate or communal living situations.
Local governments, often wary of high density and afraid to be seen as anti-developer, can lay the groundwork for some solutions through zoning and incentives, Shaffner said.
“It’s a great conversation to have with city council,” he said.
And people like Linda hope city councils will listen. She ended up getting help from Griggs, but she knows she’s one of the lucky ones.
“I was very, very afraid I wouldn’t be accepted anywhere else,” she said. “But now I’m not alone, I’m not living in a Dumpster or eating out of one. I’m not embarrassed. Today, I’m recovering from a stroke. And with Missy’s help, I’m getting the Medicaid I need and the transportation I need. … I’ve come a long way since my foreclosure.”
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