Meet Virginia, a Marin resident for the last 46 years. She is 91 years young and tries to remain as active and independent as possible. “I used to be a dressmaker, you know,” she said when I met her. These days, she keeps to her routine, going out for walks and getting supplemental food from the Salvation Army every Tuesday morning. “The food is very good over there … I get $189 on food stamps, but that is not enough. That is about $48 per week, and you can’t buy very much with that.” With the high costs of rent in Marin, she has managed to maintain her apartment through many personal sacrifices and, over the last 2 years, support from county agencies like the Marin Center for Independent Living and the Ritter Center. For a while, Virginia was not able to pay her PG&E bills and lived without electricity for two months, as the majority of her fixed income was taken up by rent for her one bedroom apartment.
T.S. Elliot once said “Home is where one starts from.” Home is a springboard for stability and a key component in helping individuals achieve their goals. However, when that home is an unstable variable in people’s lives, it’s harder to get everything else into focus. This is true for many individuals and families that use our services at Ritter. With the stagnation of wages and the sharp increase in local rental costs, more people find themselves precariously housed. I am sure this is not the first time you have heard this. What I don’t know is whether there is enough awareness that this is also a hard truth for many seniors in Marin like Virginia. It is quickly becoming a serious crisis.
According to the State of the Region Report, Marin has the oldest and the fastest aging population in the Bay Area, with one out of every five residents over the age of 62. Another striking stat is that the average household in our county has only 2.4 residents. This suggests, as pointed out by a recent Marin IJ article, that “many elderly live alone or are empty nesters.” What are we as a community to do to ensure the well-being of an increasing aging population in our county?
Virginia has been determined to stay in her home, even if it meant making big sacrifices. “Food is ok, I don’t eat that much,” she says. But her rent has been raised twice in the last two years, and it will be increasing another $150/month in September. Back in 2013, MCIL and Ritter stepped in and were able to provide rental assistance for 18 months and got Virginia on as many subsidized housing wait lists as possible (the Section 8 waitlist in Marin was not a viable option as it has been closed to new applicants since 2008.) The plan was to try to get her financially stable while she waited the 3-5 years that it would take for her name to come up on a waitlist for affordable housing.
Almost two years have passed since Virginia first started working with her advocate at MCIL. Since exhausting every single financial assistance fund available to seniors in the county, she has used all of her savings and her name has not come up on any waitlists. What are we to do with seniors like Virginia? Shouldn’t we be ensuring that they don’t end up without a stable home and a place from which to start their day? How many seniors in Marin County have already adjusted to living in their car, sleeping in a homeless shelter, crashing on their friend’s couch or literally sleeping on the street? How many are trying to remain independent like Virginia did, choosing not to eat or to never turn the heat on so that they can remain in their current home? How many seniors are being hit with sharp rent increases they can’t afford?
Agencies like the Ritter Center continue to do as much as possible to have a positive impact, but there is always more need out there than there are services available. What do you think we need to do as community to address the needs of seniors in Marin? We would love to hear your thoughts.
As for Virginia, if you or anyone you know would like to help Virginia remain in her home and would like to make a financial contribution towards her rent, please contact the Ritter Center. Or if you know of an open rental and/or a landlord who would be willing to rent to Virginia at a rate she can afford, please let us know.
If donating online, please select “Rental Assistance for Seniors” from the Program Area dropdown menu.