Idaho’s affordable housing crisis spreads to seniors in Treasure Valley

Many people find a roommate through a mutual friend or a social media post, but Jan S. and Valerie P. met when their kids got married.

After years of battling rising Boise housing costs from separate apartments, they chose to find two-bedroom accommodation together last summer to save on rent and keep each other sane during the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting together is the only way to keep their living expenses manageable on a fixed income, but they’re still worried that their landlord will sell the house they’re renting or add hundreds of dollars to their monthly bill.

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They asked BoiseDev not to print their last name due to concerns about losing their home.

“It’s getting more and more difficult,” said Valérie, 74. “The apartment I lived in over a year ago before this place doubled the rent. Even though my daughter was helping me, neither of us thought it was worth it.

Across the Treasure Valley, seniors are under pressure as rents, property taxes and other expenses rise while their fixed incomes remain the same. As the cost of living continues to rise, many face difficult choices to meet their needs.

Some shy away from high property taxes on large homes whose rental values ​​have more than quadrupled, where they run into rapidly rising rents and the constant fear of being moved when a property changes hands. Others stay in their high-value homes wondering where they would go if they sold.

Fixed income for increasing costs

Valerie and Jan are better off than most, but they say their spending doesn’t leave much wiggle room.

Their rent for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Southeast Boise is $ 2,500 per month. They divide the expenses evenly, take turns cooking and doing other household chores to keep costs down, but with their monthly incomes of $ 1,800 and $ 2,000 respectively, they are not living well.

“We both have to pay extra insurance because Medicare doesn’t pay anything, so it’s $ 280, dental plan is $ 50, then now rent, utilities, food, auto insurance, l tenant insurance, ”said Jan, 70. “I personally take money from my IRA account which was supposed to be for travel or for other things.”

Mark Wight, a senior lawyer and president of Idaho Estate Planning, said the high cost of living for seniors outweighs their bottom line. He said high prices are forcing older people to downsize or move away from the city center, leaving them without the support to live safely at home for the rest of their lives.

“If you want to stay in the house you are in and want to buy a smaller one, then you move further from the city center, you have less access to services and there is no bus”, said Wight. “If you’re not driving, it’s incredibly difficult for our senior population in the West. If you take their license away or they give it up, they give up a huge amount of freedom because they’re stuck at home.

The question of fairness

Many old people in Treasure Valley own homes they have lived in for decades that are completely written off and are hundreds of thousands of dollars more than when they bought them. On paper, they are swimming in assets, but they cannot easily access that wealth.

“Do I sell my house and move into independent living?” Wight said, of old people in this position. “Well, yeah, except the capital gains tax is going to be pretty high, so for that to work we have to sit down with an accountant and figure out what the capital gains tax will be. Fairness is good, but it all comes at a cost. “

There are a variety of tools for the elderly to use. This includes reverse mortgages, where the homeowner borrows against the value of their home, or the state’s circuit breaker program that helps low-income homeowners. As part of the legislature’s property tax package at the end of the 2021 session, the state increased the amount of assistance available to homeowners under the program. But, in return, homeowners whose homes are valued at more than 125% of their county’s median price will be excluded from next year.

Senator C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, introduced another program during the 2021 session to add another option for older owners. His bill made changes to the state’s property tax deferral program to allow anyone earning less than $ 50,000 a year to choose the state of Idaho to pay their local property taxes, then to put a lien on the house. When the house is sold, the house’s proceeds plus 2% interest pay off the state.

“There might be some who say ‘hey, I’d rather have this for my children’s inheritance and the state give me the money’, but I feel there is a limit to amount the state is going to pay, ”Grow said. “We are already paying $ 20 million for the circuit breaker and that has a higher benefit and the state will pay a higher tax which helps those who are in a house of greater value.”

What about medical care?

No matter where you decide to age, there is a cost associated with it.

Some people who decide to live their last years at home face the difficulty of finding home care to take care of themselves or their loved ones. Wight said housing has become more expensive, as have the prices for these services, as personal care assistant agencies and other home care services have to charge more for staff.

“Assisted living has a hard time paying caregivers because they can make more money in another job,” Wight said. “You take care of the bodily functions of an elderly person, or you can go to Amazon and earn an extra five dollars an hour.”

Personal care assistants to help with daily tasks like dressing, eating, cleaning and getting around to help a senior with a disability stay at home rather than in an assisted living facility. Unlike nursing services, this is not covered by Medicaid, leaving clients to find other ways to pay.

The reverse is not much cheaper. Independent residences and assisted living facilities have high prices to accommodate additional medical staff and their increasing salaries, programs and food costs. Looking at their budget, it leaves people like Jan and Valerie wondering how they can afford their next step.

“If they put us in the shelter of the house, we still have to have a two-bedroom,” Jan joked to Valerie.

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