For a "fistful of dollars" – 72 to be exact � an elderly couple found themselves on the verge of vacating an apartment in which they have lived for the past six years.
They are members of the "retired poor," a category of persons who may have been middle-class during their working years, but when locked into a fixed income in their mid-60s, become increasingly poor as they age into their mid-and-late 80s.
"We simply can't afford it," said the senior helpline caller. He and his wife, both 83, reside in an apartment that qualifies for a reduced rent for seniors with limited incomes under a program sponsored by the state housing development authority. They pay $352 per month rent.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had notified them that based upon information contained in their initial lease, their rent would be increased to $424, beginning next month. "We are barely scraping by," said the caller. "Can you help?"
Their combined income, consisting of Social Security and a modest annuity, totals $15,000 a year. Senior-discounted rent is calculated by a complex formula that measures countable income against tax credits allocated to the developers of low-cost housing projects. This program is separate from the better-known Section 8 HUD assistance, a program available to the very poor, irrespective of age.
I contacted the caller's property manager and offered assistance in appealing the HUD decision. He turned out to be is a strong advocate for his senior tenants and had already appealed the determination. A review of 2005 housing authority criteria revealed that HUD had improperly targeted the caller for a rent increase.
I informed the caller that his monthly rent would remain the same. "Most of the people here are older," he said. "We are almost like family. We would hate to leave; it has become our home."
They represent a growing class of aging couples too old to return to the workforce and confronted by escalating housing costs aggravated by unconscionable energy costs imposed by energy oligopolists earning unconscionable profits. They are the "retired poor."
(Pro bono legal information, advice and assistance is available to persons 55 and older through the USD Senior Legal Helpline, 1-800-747-1895; mmyers@ usd.edu).