Seniors Languish On Affordable Housing Wait-Lists

Seniors Languish On Affordable Housing Wait-Lists

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LONG BEACH -- Lacking a bathroom or kitchen in his single-room hotel, Robert Woods, 61, often has to wait to use the toilet and the shower. When he wants to fix something to eat, he has to get in line. Considering his life at the Bay Hotel in Long Beach, Woods says, “I can’t wait to get out.”

Woods, like many seniors in Long Beach, is biding his time in substandard living quarters as he waits for a permanent, affordable housing unit to become available. Some wait up to five years for a decent home.

“Somebody has to die or go to an assisted living [center] and that doesn’t happen that often,” says Lourine Hodge, a housing volunteer at Long Beach Senior Center.

Subsidized senior housing units at local complexes like Covenant Manor or Lutheran Towers have a wait time of about 2 to 3 years, while others, such as American Gold Star Manor, are about 4 to 5 years, according to Hodge.

Up until a few weeks ago, David Tracy, 64, was just like Woods, waiting to get into a decent, affordable apartment.

“[I was living] in Sara’s Apartments. [It] was supposed to be ‘low-income housing’ but [the rent] was $700 when I first moved in, and now it’s $752,” says Tracy. He now lives in Providence, where the rent is much cheaper -- only $483 a month.

The low monthly payments combined with complimentary use of appliances at Providence appeal to seniors like Tracy and Woods, which is why they so often endure long stays on a waiting list, until something is available.

But even when a senior obtains what is technically affordable housing, making ends meet can remain a challenge, especially for those who rely solely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

According to data compiled by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, the maximum SSI payment for elders in California in 2011 was $9,965 per year (or about $830 per month), for single, non-home owners.  Most SSI recipients receive less.  

Yet the minimum amount required for this same population to meet basic needs in Los Angeles County was $15,438, according to the same data index.

Many seniors in Long Beach use their entire Social Security check to pay the monthly rent. For places like the temporary housing Woods stays in, that check is just enough.

“[At the] Bay Hotel downtown, you can rent a room for $525 a month plus a $625 security deposit, but the only thing in your room is a bed, sink, and a refrigerator. You have to use the same toilet everybody on the floor uses,” Hodge said.

Overcrowding in shared living spaces, where seniors are given just a bed with four or five people sharing the room, can be so difficult that some end up spending most of their time on the streets.

“You can imagine – [if] you can only sleep there, what do you do with your things? Those are the people you see [walking around] with a basket pulling all of their stuff,” Hodge said.

Hodge continues, “[Seniors] deal with that type of atmosphere because that’s better than sleeping down at the public library.”

For seniors who don’t receive SSI, housing options aren’t easy to come by. Not all seniors at age 65 are getting SSI and some receive only general relief aid, which comes out to about $200 a month.

“The agency can then send them to homeless shelters,” Hodge said. “That is a place where a lot of people end up.”

Seeking affordable housing is a central issue for seniors of all shades and backgrounds.

“It definitely affects the Latino community,” said Maria Becerra, senior organizer at Centro CHA, a local non-profit committed to serving underserved Hispanic neighborhoods in Long Beach. “More seniors are calling in, because they need to speak with someone who is bilingual.”

Becerra notes that the organization does all they can to empower seniors so they can better navigate through life and the hurdles that come along with it.

Affordable housing clearly is not easy to come by for seniors. Fortunately, people like Hodge, do what they can to help.

“We are in the hub of the senior community, so we really are viable for the [seniors] in this area,” explains Hodge. “A lot of times seniors are overlooked.”

Karina Cortez is a student in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Cal State Long Beach and a contributor to VoiceWaves, a youth and community journalism platform established by New America Media and supported by The California Endowment and the Long Beach Community Foundation.