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Senior women at greatest risk of homelessness as housing costs, property taxes soar

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SEATTLE -– Increasing housing costs is now a fact of life in our growing city and so is displacement.  No group knows that more than seniors on a fixed income.

To give you some perspective, say you’re an average senior receiving the average Social Security benefit of $1,400 a month.  If you have no other savings or retirement dollars, you certainly can’t rent in and around Seattle where the average rent last month was around $2,100.

This is especially a problem for women who tend to earn less than men in the lifetimes and thus collect less of a benefit.  In fact, there are nearly 3 million women over the age of 65 living in poverty – double the number of men.

At the Wallingford Community Senior Center, the staff and volunteers are doing more than just knitting.  Keeping their hands busy while their minds go to work on how to support an aging community.

“They are invisible and this is an invisible epidemic,” said Denise Malm, a social worker at the Wallingford Community Senior Center.

A housing crisis among seniors is what Malm says she deals with most.

While 67-year-old Shannon Markley has always been frugal and benefited from an inheritance, she’s not immune to the city’s rising costs.

“My property taxes are almost $9,000,” said Markley.

She spent part of her day in the computer lab at the senior center working to help other seniors dealing with the housing crisis.

“Form a cooperative or LLC so we could co-own the house and environment where people could actually develop some equity in,” said Markley.

Instead of just spending their final years dancing, doing arts and crafts, and other activities, Malm says area seniors are struggling with a new reality.

“We had a person who is 90 and said my rent has gone up and I have a limited income.  I just receive Social Security and I can’t afford the rent,” said Malm.

By the time Malm got that call, it was too late.

“It’s a year or five years for low-income housing,” said Malm.

If seniors apply early enough, there’s public assistance, property tax reduction, and utility help.

“We have the utility discount. There is the property tax, but even with the property tax reduction if you make over 40,000 a year you don’t qualify. And think of 40,000 a year to live in Seattle,” said Malm.

And if they do qualify, it takes paperwork, time and due diligence.

“This is like a full-time job if you’re doing it right.  Between my property tax appeal, this, and renting my spaces, I have no time for anything else,” said Markley.

So Malm tries to help those she can before it’s an emergency.

“They want to stay in the community that they know and love,” said Malm.

Staff at the Wallingford Community Senior Center had to adjust program costs and apply for more grants to keep up with their cost-of-living increase as well.

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