At Senior Concerns, one type of phone call has been steadily increasing in the last few years, older adults calling because they are in danger of losing their housing. Typically, older adults on Social Security have a fixed income that only increases nominally with a cost-of-living increase of a few percent a year. However, rental costs are increasing at a much higher rate, making it difficult for many to afford them.
A recent study out of the University of Southern California predicts that by 2023, Ventura County rents will increase by $310 a month and Los Angeles County rents will increase by $252 a month. The Social Security increase last year was 5.9%, which was the largest increase in four decades. Yet, even this larger increase only translated to an average increase of $93 a month for a retired worker. That is not enough to sustain most rent increases.
One common occurrence is that an older adult or couple has been renting the same home for many years, with nominal rent increases. The owner of the home either passes away or decides to sell since the housing market is so desirable. The renters are now served a 60-day eviction notice. Typically, they have been paying a rent that may be below the market rate since they were in the same unit for so long. Now, they are priced out of market rate housing.
The new homeowners can rent out the same house for a much higher rent, as they can set it at whatever rate they want. There is a California state law setting a maximum rent increase (the Tenant Protection Act or Civil Code 1946.2), but it doesn’t apply to all housing, and particularly not to single-family homes owned by an individual or family. You can learn more about housing laws and ask any questions specific to your situation by calling the Housing Rights Center at 800-477-5977.
At the same time that seniors are being priced out of market rate housing, low-income apartments are difficult to find, have long wait lists, and have eligibility requirements. Section 8 housing is a wonderful program for people who cannot afford market rates, but they are not even accepting applications for the waiting lists because they are full.
Many older adults are spending 40-50% of their income on housing with limited savings to sustain this. Therefore, purchasing a home or mobile home unit is not possible.
One solution is for older adults to become roommates like they did on Golden Girls. Several of our Meals on Wheels clients are doing this, enabling them to afford an apartment by splitting the rent. This may not always be ideal or easy to find, but when faced with evictions and rising housing costs sometimes creativity and thinking outside of the box is warranted.
The Ventura County Area Agency on Aging runs a program called Homeshare. This is a housing program that matches people looking for housing with people that have extra space and are looking for a roommate. We also see some older adults living in a home they own which is larger than they need. They may be having trouble making ends meet because all their money is tied up in the home. By renting a room they can increase their income. Often, they will even offer a lower rent in exchange for the renter doing some of the household tasks.
The Homeshare program benefits both the homeowner and the person who rents a room. To learn more about Homeshare visit https://www.vcaaa.org/our-services/housing/ or call 805-477-7300.
Housing shortages are happening all over the county. The government estimates that in the United States we are 4 million homes short of what is needed. Something as essential as housing is in short supply. After the economic crisis of 2008, new homes simply were not being built anymore. This demand for houses only increases the market values.
Stronger and more global tenant protections are needed to protect renters. The pandemic protections are being phased out. They ended in Ventura County already and are being phased out now in Los Angeles County. Without better protections in place, tenants face trauma and hardship when there is no recourse for them.
Planning for rent increases, cohabitating with roommates, friends or family, and thinking outside of the box may be the best options for older adults in the rental community. This issue will only grow as more people age and are priced out of traditional housing options. Innovative housing options are greatly needed to fill the current gap in affordable rental options.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at email@example.com.