More seniors slip into homelessness as affordable housing crisis deepens

Posted at 7:31 PM, Nov 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-20 23:14:47-05

PHOENIX — For 13 years, Linda Freed of Mesa has called her 800 square foot apartment home.

She is comfortable there, with a lifetime worth of trinkets and memorabilia throughout the two-bedroom, one-bath place at Anderson Apartments, a 55 years and over complex in Mesa.

"I feel like this is my home. And I know how to get around," she said.

She says she didn't really think anything of it when the property manager informed her she would be on a month-to-month lease in August. But in hindsight, it may have set up the predicament she finds herself in now. Freed says on November 13 she received a notice that said she had to vacate the apartment by December 31.

The 78-year-old widow's life has been turned upside down ever since.

"I just don't know what to do. I'm just...I'm just beside myself sometimes. And I'm sorry, I'm getting a little bit teary-eyed because it's so overwhelming," she told ABC15.

Freed hasn't looked for a home since 2007. She doesn't have a smartphone or internet so she spent the past week on her landline searching for somewhere to go. But a lot has changed since 2007-especially prices.

"Well most of them are over $1,000. I can't do that," Freed said. "And they want three month's rent. Three month's rent on top of the rent you're gonna pay. I don't know how anybody can do it nowadays. I really don't."

She says more affordable properties could take years to get into.

"They say that we have a waiting list of five years, four and a half is the least one lady said well, you might have a miracle, you know, but I said miracles do happen."

Freed does need a miracle. Her rent is currently $635 per month, well below market rent of $1,173 in Mesa according to the National Low Income Housing Association.

The lack of affordable house is one of many obstacles for seniors and the patchwork system that is in place to help them, according to Wendy Johnson, executive director of Justa Center, which runs a day center for homeless seniors and helps them in trying to qualify for affordable housing.

"There are groups out there that are trying really hard to help with this," but Johnson said it's not enough. "We have no tools to deal with this many seniors, let alone this many poor seniors, under-resourced seniors. And we have a generation of them."

Johnson says even when affordable housing vouchers are obtained, they can end up on long wait lists or no list at all.

"They can't find a landlord with either empty space or who is willing to take a voucher," she said.

According to data from the Arizona Department of Economic Security, 30% of adults in the shelter are over 55 years old.

Half of Arizona's homeless population is over the age of 50 according to a 2019 report on homelessness from the Arizona Department of Economic Security. "With rising housing costs, elderly households often must choose between housing and other basic needs such as food and medical care," the report said.

When the issue is a rent increase Johnson says the first line of defense is to try negotiating with the landlord to stay housed.

"Would they consider a longer-term lease? Would they consider a slight raise you know incremental?" she said.

Johnson also suggests seniors contact the Area Agency on Aging, Foundation for Senior Living, AARP and alternative living arrangements.

"Such as a group home where you are living with two or three other seniors in a shared single level home independently but supported in a group," Johnson said.

Still, she said, "There is no quick fix. I'm devastated by it."

Freed said her rent was always on time and the property manager would not give her an explanation for why she must go. ABC15 repeatedly contacted the company, Farnsworth Ricks, but it did not provide an explanation before publication.

"I feel so helpless and hopeless. And I don't like to feel like that, because I know that there are good people out there, but they have their own lives. And I am just...I just need to know how to do this," Freed said.