The difficulty of aging in place | Windows and Mirrors

Living on a fixed income in an increasingly expensive region is not easy.

Christine Humes and her husband have lived in Duvall for 12 years; before that, they lived in Kirkland for 32 years.

Their daughter and grandson live in Duvall and they have a lot of friends who also live locally. They also just love it here.

“It’s such a nice area, beautiful, beautiful area,” Humes said.

There are a lot of things in east King County to lend itself to being a desirable place to live: great schools, a good amount of parks and green space and a variety of places to shop and eat — just to name a few.

So if this is the case, and Humes and her husband have a number of reasons to stay in the Evergreen State, why are they looking to move down to Tuscon, Arizona?

Like many retired seniors, Humes, who is 74, and her husband are looking to downsize. Their property is on a big lot, with plenty of trees and flowers as the couple enjoys gardening. But although Humes said she and her husband are both “physically active,” the work is getting more difficult for them. In addition, their property taxes have increased and their options to downsize locally are not affordable.

“Everything is expensive,” Humes said.

The lack of affordable housing on the Eastside — and throughout the Puget Sound region, really — is a growing issue for many living here and as a result, a topic the Reporter reports on regularly. It’s an issue that affects people from different backgrounds, in different jobs, living situations and stages in life.

And as I recently learned, the lack of affordable housing can be particularly difficult for seniors living on the Eastside.

“It’s not unique,” said Lisa Yeager, director of the Sno-Valley Senior Center in Carnation, about seniors in all areas — rural, urban, suburban and everything in between — being affected by the rising cost of living in this area.

And even if people have paid off their mortgage, there are other expenses, including property taxes, which in Carnation, increased by 31 percent in 2018.

“It was a shocking lot,” Yeager said about the tax spike.

A need for services

Kelly Fujiwara, a social worker for the center, said it is difficult for people to age in place as she and Yeager said, there are so few options when it comes to low-income housing in the Lower Snoqualmie Valley where they serve. And there is virtually no assisted living in the area, Fujiwara said.

And while the senior center cannot directly help people with finding housing, Yeager said they work to point people in the right direction and connect them with services and organizations that can help them.

But this is still easier said than done.

Accessing services, whether they’re to do with housing or medical needs, can already be a difficult and confusing process. And in rural areas such as the Lower Valley, “these challenges get magnified,” Yeager said. This is because there are just not as many services available in the area or people willing or able to go that far east, away from the bigger cities.

Some of the services the senior center does provide include “lots of food options” such as community dining on weekdays as well as Meals on Wheels for residents who are home bound. The center has also provided classes on eviction and foreclosure prevention and how to apply for a property tax exemption.

Like Sno-Valley, other senior centers and groups across the Eastside are offering classes, talks and more to help people learn about their options when it comes to staying in the community.

The Bellevue Network on Aging (BNOA) has had events featuring speakers discussing housing and representatives from A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH).

Working with governments

Gazel Tan, who is vice chair for the BNOA board and also chairs the group’s outreach committee, said they are an advisory board for the city of Bellevue that reviews and evaluates issues that would affect older adults and then gives recommendations to city council.

The group also works closely with the Kirkland Senior Council (KSC), which does the same thing for the city of Kirkland.

In addition to working with their respective city governments, BNOA and KSC members also advocate for seniors at the legislative level. Representatives from each group have gone down to Olympia to talk with state lawmakers on issues affecting seniors.

Most recently, the group has talked to legislators about how rising property taxes are forcing many people out of their homes — homes some have lived in for decades.

In a written statement to lawmakers, Michele Trimble, a Bellevue resident who works as a Medicare consultant, shared an example of a woman who had to move out of her home of 40-plus years due to the 2018 property tax hike.

Trimble wrote that the situation is unfortunate and that the qualifying income thresholds for property tax exemption and deferral programs for low-income seniors needs to be increased.

BNOA and KSC provided lawmakers with several written examples of similar situations.

“Many seniors are not able to stay in their home…because of the rising property tax,” said Diana Thompson, who co-chairs BNOA and KSC’s advocacy committee alongside her Kirkland counterpart, Kathy Iverson.

Iverson added that the increased cost of living can also be discriminatory against older women whose fixed incomes may only be $600-700 a month because they may have stayed home to raise their families and had not worked as much to be able to collect as much Social Security.

Limited options

While this paints a bleak picture for seniors in the area, there are organizations out there working to help them stay on the Eastside.

Kirkland-based Imagine Housing (formerly known as St. Andrew’s Housing Group), a nonprofit focused on addressing the affordable housing need on the Eastside and whose mission is to keep people stably housed, has three properties specifically for low-income seniors, ages 62 and older. Two properties are in Kirkland and one is on Mercer Island.

The apartments are permanent affordable housing and people can stay as long as they want, as long as they meet the low-income requirement. Villette Nolon, CEO for Imagine Housing, said these are not assisted living facilities but if residents have a caregiver, Imagine Housing can accommodate them as well.

She added that they serve close to 300 seniors and they have a waiting list for all of their properties.

“People are looking for housing all the time,” she said. “There’s just not enough housing.”

The next adventure

This lack of affordable housing may make it difficult for some to stay in the area, but for Humes, who may be moving to Arizona with her husband, it’s an opportunity to travel and go camping.

And it’s not “goodbye” forever. She said they do plan to come back up and visit their daughter and grandson and their friends.

“It’s gonna be an adventure,” Humes said.

Windows and Mirrors is a bimonthly column focused on telling the stories of people whose voices are not often heard. If you have something you want to say, contact editor Samantha Pak at spak@