Janet was dismayed.
“I don’t trust anybody any more,” said the 77-year-old. She had just limped slowly across the street and across a parking lot from the Pioneer Homestead back to her apartment, leaning on the wheeled walker that keeps her mobile. Janet had been up since 5 a.m. filling out the application for an apartment at Pioneer, the housing complex for elderly, low income people.
She had lived for the past three years in the Cedar Creek apartment complex, where 18 disabled people receive rent subsidies under a federal program. But the money ran out. Rents were being hiked — in some cases doubled or tripled or more — within a month. Her rent of $679 per month was going to spike to $1,190. Non-payment would mean eviction.
Coming to the rescue — at least temporarily — were the Community Resource Center and Community Foundation of Jackson Hole. They found funding to replace the federal money. They will supply subsidies until January, when a new federal contract should take effect.
Janet is having none of it. She doesn’t want the stress of always wondering what will happen next. What will happen in January, when temperatures are way below freezing and snow is knee-deep? Will she be evicted then? That’s why she applied for an apartment across the way at Pioneer.
“I thought I’d be here the rest of my life. I thought I’d pass here,” she said. Janet loves her apartment at Cedar Creek, has filled it with the accumulation of a lifetime. Pedestal dolls in storybook angel outfits. Cut glass bowls and candle holders. Milk glass white doves. Pillows with cardinals and flowers and moose and ducks. Covering her walls are Jackson Hole posters, pictures of mountain landscapes and Native Americans. Every surface holds a treasure. Every corner is filled.
If Janet moves to Pioneer, she’ll trade her two-bedroom apartment for a much smaller one-bedroom. The rent will be about what she pays now, she said, which she can afford because of her Social Security payment and a federal pension from work as an auditor for the Army and Navy. Most of her income goes for rent and for $4 lunches at the Senior Center, her main meal of the day.
“I don’t have any extra money for shows or anything that the Senior Center takes people to. But (the rent) is worth it to me, because I love this apartment,” she said. If she moves, she won’t have any more spendable income, she won’t have the apartment she loves and she won’t have many of the things that that keep her company. They won’t fit in the smaller space.
“I was supposed to be in the flower of my years,” she said. “They weren’t supposed to do this to me.”
Ted, who lives across the hall from Janet, was going to fight the rent hike. He sent letters to Congress, planned to appeal to Jackson Town Council. His rent was going up from $255 a month to $950. “I didn’t know they would do something like this to disabled people,” he said. Ted, 58, said he has Aspergers Syndrome, which limits possibilities for work. Currently not employed, Ted has held jobs in nurseries and as a security guard, and is expecting to start work at Vertical Harvest when it opens next year. It isn’t likely to produce a paycheck covering rent of nearly $1,000 a month, should the federal subsidy fall through.
Wayne, 67, lives down the hall and pays $301 in rent. The cost was going to jump to $649. He had planned to ignore the increase and hope for the best. If he were evicted? “I probably would have gone to the Mission.” Wayne, who said he is bi-polar, works part-time at a laundry, receives disability payments and food stamps. He said he can’t afford lunch at the senior center. Getting this temporary help with rent “was a weight off my shoulders.” He is counting on the federal subsidy resuming. “It’ll be a hard time if it don’t go through,” he said.
The subsidies for Cedar Creek’s disabled residents ran out this year for a complex of reasons. Restrictions Congress placed on rental assistance contracts for 2015 was the final blow. Syringa Properties manages Cedar Creek, and President Dianne Hunt said publicity about this problem led to contract restrictions being lifted for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. However, the new language is in a continuing resolution that funds the federal government only until Dec. 11. What happens then? Hard to tell with this Congress. She is hopeful.
Syringa handles several properties that participate in the federal rental assistance program, so Ms. Hunt is familiar with the needs of low income families and people coping with disabilities. “With the assistance of the federal government in the form of rent subsidies, energy assistance, food stamps, and other services, people can get by,” she said. “When any of these is disrupted, there is a huge impact to these vulnerable households.”
By Marcia Kunstel
Photos by Anne Muller
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