Seniors on fixed income face housing challenges as rental prices rise

Posted at 5:30 AM, Oct 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-24 10:22:36-04

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - At 66 years old, Steven Lawrence, Sr. wants to live on his own.

"I really would like an affordable, furnished one-bedroom apartment where I could walk in, shut the door, and have my own privacy," he said.

Instead, he rents a room in a house. He shares the home with others and pays $600 a month.

Lawrence retired when he was 62 and receives $1,205 a month in disability and social security payments.

He says he's been looking for independent senior living in Suffolk but has struggled to find anything under $1,300 a month.

"No matter how much you subtract or add, it's still not going to be affordable," said Lawrence.

Rents have risen across Hampton Roads in recent years. Data sourced from the Virginia Realtors Association shows rents rose 7.4 percent in 2022 from 2021. That's on top of a nearly ten percent increase the year before.

"A lot of seniors are reaching out for help," said Angela York, the executive director of THRIVE Peninsula, an organization that tries to help people going through tough times.

York said in the last six months, the requests for help from seniors have risen 60 percent.

"I think a lot of folks are scrambling to find new housing opportunities when their lease ends. They're seeing their rent is going up $100, $200, $300 sometimes, and that's not something they can overcome on their own," said York.

That means seniors could have to go back to work, move to less desirable locations with higher crime rates, or move back in with family or friends.

"It's upsetting when somebody over the age of 70 would have to go back to work just to survive. I don't think there are a lot of easy answers. I think these folks when they hit hard times, they can reach out to organizations like us," said York.

While there are challenges, there's some good news as there will be an 8.7-percent increase in social security benefits next year, but that could just offset the rate of inflation.

Bay Aging is an organization serving seniors on the Peninsula and Middle Peninsula with 12 rental properties in the region. Most of the properties are age-restricted and all are income restricted.

"What is happening is limited supply and increasing demand," said Joshua Gemerek, the senior vice president for housing at Bay Aging.

Gemerek said the waitlists for housing have grown and someone could be on one for years and by that time their circumstances could be a lot different.

"They may be nursing home eligible. They may be assisted living eligible, so that can change quickly over that period of time," said Gemerek.

As for Lawrence, he feels forgotten.

"It hurts," he said. "It hurts real bad to be putting most of your life into working, putting the politicians in office, and then we're just kicked to the curb."

He believes those in power need to do more to create affordable options for people.

"At our age, why should we have to go through stuff like that?" he asked.

For more information and for help: Here's the link to THRIVE Peninsula, Bay Aging, and Peninsula Agency on Aging.