‘Life is not supposed to be this hard.’ Rising rent puts senior on edge of homelessness

A senior citizen in Oakdale is in distress over a notice to vacate her apartment because of a sharp rental increase she can’t afford.

“I don’t know what to do,” Beverly Bowers said. “I am falling apart. Life is not supposed to be this hard.”

Bowers, 67, is on oxygen and she has done what she can to find a new place in what’s become an unaffordable housing market for people on fixed incomes in Stanislaus County.

The renter has paid $675 a month for a duplex apartment, where she’s lived for 10 years, paying the rent on time. A new landlord who bought the duplex is raising the rent to $1,250 a month, Bowers said. That’s more than her monthly Social Security disability check of $923.

Bowers received the notice Sept. 13 and legally has until Nov. 13 to move out.

Local agencies concerned with seniors and fair housing for tenants have predicted a wave of low-income seniors being displaced by the state’s housing crisis and a boost in homelessness.

Bowers said a fair housing agency in Stanislaus County tried to talk with the property owner, asking for more time because of Bowers’ health problems, but the landlord was refusing to work with the agency.

She also sought help from county Aging & Veterans Services. “We literally get these types of calls all the time — almost daily,” said Jill Erickson, a manager for the agency.

The average rent for an apartment in Modesto is around $1,220 a month, far above what many seniors on fixed income can pay.

Senior housing complexes charging affordable rents have two- to three-year waiting lists. Aging & Veterans Services tries to refer seniors in this situation to board and care facilities but often rooms are not available. Tenants are sometimes exploited by those types of facilities.

Scott Anderson, who purchased the Oakdale duplex, said he spoke with a housing advocate Friday and told the advocate he had turned the matter over to an attorney.

“(Bowers) was given more than enough time prior to getting the 60-day notice,” Anderson said. After he purchased the property, “she came to me right away. I said the rent is going up right away and it will be based on fair market value,” he said.

Anderson said he inquired about Section 8 housing assistance for the tenant and found nothing was available. He said he didn’t think Bowers had made enough effort to find another place to live.

“If I were to say she could stay, there is no way I could make that accommodation.,” Anderson said. “I didn’t get into investing to lose money.”

He said a request for more time would have to be handled by his attorney. Anderson said in a phone message Thursday afternoon that his attorney authorized a 30-day extension for Bowers.

Anderson said he wants to work with the tenant so she finds an affordable place, and also paid her water bill.

The Senior Law Project in Modesto said a property owner can terminate an occupancy as long as it’s not for illegal reasons such as discrimination or retaliation for tenant complaints.

A rent stabilization law in California, designed to protect tenants against large rental increases, takes effect Jan. 1. It will cap rent increases at 5 percent plus inflation per year. The rules will mostly affect multifamily structures, such as apartment complexes and duplexes, with some exceptions, as well as single-family homes owned by real estate companies.

The Senior Law Project has received a $50,000 grant authorized by Gov. Gavin Newsom for legal services to prevent homelessness among seniors and unlawful evictions.

The Modesto center can try to negotiate with a landlord, or in the case of a senior tenant with health problems, may ask a judge to stay an eviction for a reasonable amount of time, said Byron Nelson, a paralegal with Senior Law Project.

Margie Palomino, director of county Aging & Veterans Services, said the Commission on Aging will consider whether to form an ad hoc committee next week to look at the effects of the housing shortage on seniors. If the committee is formed, it could recommend that city and county leaders make a push for providing more housing for low-income retirees.

“We are seeing there are less and less affordable housing options for seniors,” Palomino said. There’s concern a crisis may be looming as more residents in the Baby Boomer population reach retirement age.

“They are the fastest-growing segment of the population,” Palomino said. “It is very important to start acting now before it’s too late.”

Another idea that’s floating is home sharing. Sonoma County has a home-sharing program that matches seniors with a homeowner who has an extra room for rent.

Bowers, a former registered nurse, was disabled years ago when she tried to catch a large patient who was falling. She suffered neck and back injuries and additional medical complications have compromised her health.

The renter said she has tried to find housing she can afford and asked a local property management firm for any available listings but nothing has been available in her price range. Bowers lives in a two-bedroom unit and suggested a roommate to the landlord to share the $1,250 a month rent, but he was not open to that, she said.

To bring a second tenant into the apartment, many boxes and belongings would need to be removed from rooms.

“He is perfectly legal in what he is doing,” Bowers said. “ I just have no place to move yet. I am trying to get people to help me.”

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Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the business of health care has appeared in The Bee for 15 years.