In the News

Housing seniors affordably

Originally posted on AtascaderoNews.com

Non-conventional solutions and startling statistics discussed at library meeting

ATASCADERO – A recent meeting hosted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) at the Atascadero Library gathered the public to discuss solutions to the affordable housing crisis in North County, specifically the challenges senior women face in finding independent affordable housing.

Executive Director Aurora William of El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO), Vice President of Home Ownership of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing (PSHHC) Sheryl Flores and Program Coordinator Anne Wyatt of HomeShareSLO all came to the podium to share their thoughts on the complex issue, with all three speakers commenting on the statistics and trends of today’s North County housing market.

Wyatt said more senior single women households are part of a growing trend.

“And that means we have changing housing needs,” Wyatt said. “A lot of people I’ve talked to as a housing policy planner expressed notions of the home as kind of a “single family home” of maybe a larger size, but that doesn’t necessarily fit the needs of an aging single population.”

Program coordinator Anne Wyatt of HomeShareSLO:

HomeShareSLO is a grassroots local nonprofit that focuses on unconventional long-term housing. The group has been connecting “Providers” (those with rooms to share) with “Seekers” (those looking for homes) for one year now, but the home sharing model has been going on since the 1970s, with HomeShare nonprofits popping up all over America as the difficult housing trends perpetuate.

Wyatt, who houses a single senior man with her own extra bedroom, said their organization is hoping to gain traction with seniors.

“We’re seeing a lot more seniors” needing independent housing situations, she said. “And we’re also seeing a lot more single person households. And along with that, we’re seeing more senior single women households.”

“Nationally,” Wyatt added, “seven percent of households are women over 65, living alone.”

HomeShareSLO specializes in conducting screening and reference checks before matching compatible home seekers with home providers. HomeSharing is not a caregiving service, but it can provide income, companionship and security.

“It’s basically non-family members living together,” Wyatt said, who noted homesharing is not just for the youth demographic. She said HomeShare has been urging seniors to try the new/old concept even though they may have never shared a room with a non-family member before.

“As an organization we’ve had to refocus and identify training and skill building as an important component of our program,” she said, noting that those who may be unused to change will only find the program beneficial with proper support.

“Affordable housing is the big bugaboo here. It’s a challenge,” she said. “But we also have a lot of other challenges that we’re facing … We have a need for social community building and a sense of reciprocity. It’s my firm belief that we feel better and become stronger by helping other people. That sense that we’re pitching in ... Home sharing is a way to provide solutions on the ground right now, it’s not waiting for the federal government to do things differently.”

For seekers, what they need to begin is call or email HomeShareSLO for an application.

Home seekers need a minimum of $1,050 per month of verified income and must pay about $100 for the application/screening process. The HomeShare staff then provides all the information about suitable home providers, and meets with home seekers in person to walk them through the process.

For home “Providers,” a background screening and personal reference check is done, compatible matches are made with pre-screened and qualified renters, and counseling on how to maintain privacy as well help with interview questions for selected Home Seekers is arranged. “It’s not a case where it’s all or nothing. If you share your house with someone, you don’t have to share everything … There are a lot of ways to share housing while setting the boundaries about what is shared and what isn’t,” Wyatt said.

“To date we’ve signed on about 80 clients. Almost half of those are housing providers. People with an extra room … and a little over half are home seekers,” Wyatt said.

HomeShare just placed two seniors in Nipomo. Eighty percent of their clients are senior women, and right now the group is focusing on the single senior demographic.

She added, “There are over 11,000 single senior households in this county, so if we could just recruit a portion that may be interested in homesharing, that would be a lot of housing units that we create.”

To contact HomeShareSLO, call 215-5474 or email info@homeshareslo.org.

Executive Director Aurora William of El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO):

ECHO is an organization that keeps the humanity of the homeless in mind. Recently, William said, the 50-bed transitional shelter for homeless families and individuals in North San Luis Obispo County held a memorial service for a person under their care.

She said they had never done anything like that before, but they knew the homeless person didn’t have the money for it, so they made it happen. The organization remains fluid to their clients’ needs, and nowadays, they are finding more and more seniors fill their beds, especially veterans.

According to their website, ECHO beds are occupied by about 60 percent children and their parents. Many are the “working poor” who cannot afford housing at the current rates. Still, many are the elderly and/or veterans, and many struggle with physical and mental illness. ECHO runs an “Open Meal Program” serving 80 dinners each evening to anyone who is hungry – even if they aren’t staying at the shelter, and William said many of those are seniors in the community.

“We work with a population that has a smaller skill set than the normal person, and we’re looking at people who have a higher propensity for mental illness,” William said. “We’re looking at people who have substance abuse issues and we are looking at people who have experienced domestic violence in their history, and we’re looking at people who usually struggle to get through the day. So when people have a lot of issues trying to get through the day, now trying to earn an income or a wage that will support housing, especially in a community like this, it’s really, really difficult,”

She noted that the majority of the people who go through their 90-day program and services are able to find housing afterward.

Of those who work their case management program, 70 percent of ECHO clients have found housing, based on ECHO’s data analysis. William said ECHO works with about 28 other programs that help offer stability for their clients.

“The housing climate and the employment market in this county is really difficult at this point,” she said.

William said ECHO’s focus with individuals and families has been helping them develop better skill sets to increase their earning potential and trying to get them connected to the best programs out there.

For homeless seniors, William said her population is very hard to house and dependent on those programs.

“We have some veterans right now and the Section 8 housing has recently opened up,” she said, adding that her organization works hard so that seniors re-entering the housing market have the skills to stay independent.

Vice President of Home Ownership of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing Sheryl Flores:

Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, now in its 48th year, is the largest affordable housing developer on the Central Coast.

PSHHC provides more than 1,800 units of affordable homes for low income families in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, with eight of 48 properties specifically designated for senior and special needs populations.

All PSHHC senior properties have master’s level social workers on-site to provide clinical case management services, which includes helping to find caregivers, enrolling in benefits programs, coordinating transportation, health care, mental health treatment and emergency financial assistance.

Though income qualifications vary every year and are different for each property, the 2017 income limits for senior properties range from as low as $22,880 to as high as $31,500 for a single person and $26,160 to $36,000 for a family of two, according to a Peoples’ Self-Housing online news clipping.

Flores said her organization may have affordable units, but there aren’t enough of them to house the growing number of seniors who need them. Peoples’ self-housing doesn’t offer assisted living other than having the social services on site.

“We have senior apartments specifically in Templeton, Paso Robles and Morro Bay and more going south. We’re remodeling our Paso property. They’re going to have roll-in showers and higher toilets – we’ve always had ground-level toilets and things like that – so we’re trying to make them so that people can stay longer,” Flores said, noting that a book she read called “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande really has gotten her thinking about the senior village concept, where hundred of seniors live in village communities and share access to vetted home-repair contractor and share rides to doctors and so forth. The movement has been gaining traction all over America, and with the innovative staff at PSHHC thinking up new ways to serve the area’s seniors, just may make its way to San Luis Obispo County one day soon.