By Sharon Smith
You can’t read the newspaper today or turn on the radio and TV without hearing or seeing something on the subject of senior housing. I never would have known it to be such a drastic problem until it became reality for me.
After having worked from age 16 to 76, having two failed marriages, and making not-too-smart financial decisions, I was living in a mobile home in need of endless repairs. After 14 years of living there, I was persuaded to retire, and my Social Security became my sole source of income. Having lived with various relatives in situations not working for us, I decided it was time for me to check into senior housing. Was I ever in for a rude awakening!
I take a ”Memoirs Writing Class” at the Norwalk Senior Center, and I asked the receptionist about senior housing, and she gave me a list covering a number of cities in the surrounding area. These were Norwalk, Downey, Bellflower, Lakewood, Santa Fe Springs, Pico Rivera, and Whittier. I began by phoning each listed facility and eliminated those offering assisted living, since I am fortunate enough to be in good health and capable of taking care of all my needs.
Over the course of the next few weeks, dear friends Maggie and Eddie accompanied me to facility after facility where I was told the wait could be as long as two to six years; the shortest wait time being one year! Some facilities were taking applications; others had such an extensive waiting list that they were no longer taking applications.
A studio apartment, 525 sq. ft., goes for $788 in Norwalk (in my income bracket). I applied to two of their apartments, but they could not tell me how long the wait would be. It’s all dependent upon a tenant’s dying or giving the 30-day required notice of moving; even then there’s that waiting list to deal with!
Totally frustrated by now, one empathetic woman to whom I talked gave me the phone number of someone she knew at the Housing Authority who she felt sure would be able to help me. I quickly called him, explained my dilemma in detail and asked, “Isn’t there anything available for an American senior citizen who has contributed to the system for 58 years?” To which he promptly replied, “I know what you’re going through. I am a Mexican American citizen also, and I can’t help my own parents and friends with their housing needs. The immigrants, homeless and lower income brackets have the priority.”
I even learned in one conversation that HUD and Section 8 Housing Authorities are no longer taking applications. They, too, are inundated with seemingly endless waiting lists!
There’s ongoing publicity surrounding the current and the impending homeless population due to the upcoming El Nino crisis and the influx of the immigrants. It tugs at my heart-strings, and we can all empathize with the lower income population, or when seeing the homeless living under pup tents on our streets, and out of shopping carts full of their meager belongings.
But, in my opinion, not enough is being brought to the forefront regarding the plight of senior citizens and the middle class with their ever-escalating costs of housing – be it buying or renting.
Not giving up too easily, my next approach to the problem was to check into the Whittier area, in particular, as they are known to have “casitas,” “granny houses” or “mother-in-law quarters” behind the main house. The older section also has an ample variety of duplexes and triplexes as well. Those dear friends of mine again drove me up one street after another. We saw very few “For Rent” signs, and the several numbers I did call turned out to be for one bedrooms that went for as much as $1,100 to $1,300 which just about amounted to my total Income per month. So, that, too, turned out to be an effort in futility.
Feeling totally frustrated and “down in the dumps” about the situation, I decided to share my problem with my particular group at the writing class. Bless their hearts! Word got around, a classmate made an offer I couldn’t refuse, and it has been a win-win situation in a lovely home that came with a cute and playful dog named Dency.
I’m back to my usual “attitude of gratitude,” and thanking God for answering the prayers of my friends and loved ones and for always opening another window each time one is closed.