For 67-year-old Tom Wall, a series of devastating events forced him to retire, lose his home to foreclosure, and now hand over about 70% of his spendable income—entirely from Social Security—for rent.
The lawyer from Annapolis, Md., is just one of the millions of seniors paying unaffordable rents across the nation.
Make Room, a nationwide campaign giving voice to struggling renters, brought Wall’s story to the forefront through videos and footage from a private musical performance in his living room by violinist Tim Fain as part of its “Concerts for the First” series. The campaign releases videos capturing the musical performances as well as the stories of individuals and families facing severe rent on its website on the first of the month—the day the rent is due.
In addition to the videos, the campaign highlighted findings that show that the number of senior households paying unaffordable rents has outpaced the growth in the overall senior population over the past 10 years.
According to Make Room, the overall population of seniors 65 and older increased by 25%—from 22.5 million to 28.1 million—while the number of seniors paying more than half of their income toward rent and utilities increased by 34%, from 1.4 million to 1.8 million.
The proportion of seniors experiencing severe rent burdens over the last decade also grew by the largest amount in mid-sized cities that are known to be more affordable. Kentucky’s Louisville and Jefferson County metro area had the largest upswing was, followed by the New Orleans; Hartford, Conn.; Providence, R.I.; and Richmond, Va., regions.
Angela Boyd, managing director of Make Room, reminds that there are a lot of different ways seniors can become cost-burdened. For Wall, who had high-paying jobs for most of his career, he had spent his savings trying to save his house and on serious medical bills for both himself and his wife.
On the flip side, there are seniors who have just scraped by every month of their lives and have to live solely on Social Security, which is not enough to get by on. For only the third time since 1975, there will be no cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security this year.
“People’s rents are going up, and Social Security is staying the same,” says Boyd. “What is that senior going to do?”
Boyd adds that as the population grows, the funding to provide affordable housing for seniors dwindles.
“We’re very concerned about the resources it takes to make sure seniors have safe, decent affordable housing,” she says. “The seniors population is growing when there is a decrease in funding for programs designed to help seniors access housing, like Sec. 202, which has been cut and cut and cut.”
Boyd says she is seeing progress made and some important developments happening on the seniors housing front, but it’s not enough.
“We just need more support from the political establishment and those who allocate resources,” she says.
Make Room is working to raise awareness about these issues within the housing industry and in other sectors. Boyd says the campaign has been receiving emails on a daily basis from other seniors regarding their own situations since the Wall videos aired. In the comings weeks, more profiles about senior renters will be shared on its website.
Enterprise Community Partners is the sponsoring partner of the Make Room campaign, which also receives support from the MacArthur and Ford foundations as well as accounting firm CohnReznick.