Five years ago, I helped my Mom make the hardest move she’s ever made – sell her house and move into an apartment she could afford with just her Social Security benefit.
Six months earlier she had been forced into an early retirement. She had been an office manager for a non-profit and the day-to-day tasks had become too difficult for her. After testing, she was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment. When the doctor called to talk to me about the condition, he told me to make plans now for her long term care. What he was really telling me was that my mother was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Assisted Living is an option for people who have money. The average cost of Assisted Living in North Carolina is $3,000 a month. That doesn’t include medical insurance payments or any of her other bills. That’s nearly double what my Mom gets from Social Security. Assisted Living will never be the solution to my mother’s housing needs.
I started looking for low-income senior housing in Wake County. To be honest, I didn’t look very hard. It was a panicky time. Every day my mother stayed in her house was a day closer to her losing it to foreclosure. When a friend suggested Capital Towers in Raleigh all I needed to know was if there was a wait list.
There are two types of affordable housing for older adults in Wake County: subsidized and tax credits. Subsidized housing bases rent on your income, with allowances for some medical expenses, and subsidies come from government programs. For tax credit housing, the developer is offered tax credits for offering below market rents. For both of these types of housing you cannot have an income over 50-60% of the area median income. Capital Towers is a tax credit facility.
The application process is long and invasive. They gained access to her bank account and needed proof of her Social Security benefit. There were pages of questions about assets and if she had disposed of any assets. They asked questions about her work status and if anyone else would being living with her. They needed a copy of her birth certificate, her social security card, and six pay stubs if she had still been working. After filling out all of the paperwork, all of the information had to be verified. In the time it took for them to process her application we were able to sell her house and almost all of her furniture and a lifetime of accumulated treasures that would not fit in a one bedroom apartment.
I tried to paint a picture of a new beginning, a fresh start, a view of downtown Raleigh from the 10th floor. Reality was more bleak. The kitchen was small, and without the luxuries she was used to like a dishwasher and garbage disposal. Those floor to ceiling windows that let in the view also let in scorching heat, even on the coldest winter days. Blackout curtains blocked the heat and the view. The HVAC was centralized for the entire building so the facility determined when the heat switched to A/C in the Spring (when night time lows were out of the 50s). Many days the high was well into the 70s plus the heat from the windows and the apartment was unbearably hot.
And then there were bed bugs. Never, thank god, actual bed bugs, but quarterly bed bug inspections. Inspections conducted by dogs made more complicated by my mother’s cat. There were also bi-annual cleanliness inspections. Finally, there was the yearly certification where we had to do all the paperwork all over again. Despite all these hurdles, and even with the apartment being rented for below market value, it was still over 40% of her monthly income.
I couldn’t help but feel bad about these little humiliations. I tried to imagine living in an apartment in which I would be subjected to cleanliness inspections. Would I pass? Would you? Why are low-income residents subjected to these exercises in shame? I understand the facility is only complying with federal regulations, but why is it assumed that this population can’t be trusted to keep their homes clean?
Mom moved out of Capital Towers last month. A planned renovation of the building motivated me to look for another place. Searching for another apartment I looked into what options were available. The Sir Walter, the former grand hotel on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh seemed promising, well, cheaper because it was subsidized but the building has been sold and will be redeveloped as a hotel or possibly high-end apartments. The current residents have until 2020 to find new accommodations. Raleigh Housing Authority offers two buildings, both with a 1-2 year waiting list. Downtown Housing Improvement Corporation (DHIC) is a non-profit housing development organization which provides affordable housing in the Triangle. Many of their properties have waiting lists as well.
However, I learned just in time about a brand new property being constructed not far from my house. I called and left messages, I emailed, I felt a familiar desperation. Finally, the day came when they opened the application process. Mom and I were in line 20 minutes before the doors opened. We were 13th in line to fill out the stack of paperwork I was now very familiar with. With so many area seniors looking for affordable housing I was very nervous about the process. I was very happy when I got the call that she was accepted. We moved her in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Now she has a dishwasher and her own thermostat so she can control when the A/C kicks in this spring.
There is still the looming inevitable, when she can no longer care for herself no matter how much slack I try to pick up. I don’t know what we will do when that day comes. My mother watched her own mother descend into the darkness of this disease. My mother who was fiercely independent never wanted to go down this road herself. But when I was doing the final walk-through at Capital Towers I was asked if my mother was happy. In these last 5 years she has lost a lot: her ability to drive, she can’t navigate a grocery store or sort her medicine. She has a limited ability to store new memories and she is losing more of her long term memories. She lives very much in the moment. And these moments right now she is happy. And that is a gift to me.