17 July 2006

QOTD / Being Homeless in Westchester County / Not worth growing older

"Decide? Some things in life you don't get to decide. Some things ... just happen."

--Ida Perkins
, 1988

(character played by actress Herta Ware
on the 80s hit sit-com The Golden Girls in the
"Brother Can You Spare That Jacket?" episode)

Other things that Ida said during the episode (paraphrased -- I can't remember them exactly, if anyone else can, please leave a comment!):

I didn't know that growing old would be such a curse.

Nobody told me that it takes money to grow old.

Given my life over the past year, and over the past five years or so, it's no wonder I identify so strongly with Ida Perkins.

I didn't get to decide to become homeless. I was kicked out of my home by my Uncle. Of course, nevermind the fact that my home is owned by my grandfather, not my Uncle (who lives in Wilmington, MA). But my Uncle supposed is a certified psychiatric nurse in the state of Massachusetts and has convinced my grandfather that it is for the best.

Never mind the fact that because of what my uncle did, I have to re-start the application process to get housing, which is almost non-existent in Westchester County. A New York Times article on the state of affordable/low-cost housing in Westchester County stated,
Our concern is that in the last few years affordable housing has disappeared off the radar screen.
There also have been a number of lawsuits against Westchester County regarding its lack of affordable and low-cost housing. The County even acknowledges the housing crisis (on its web site):
The lack of housing for working families with financial restrictions (our young people, our older residents, the employees of our corporations and our teachers, police and firefighters) - is one of the most critical issues facing our County.


So exactly what has been done about the housing crisis in Westchester County? To the best of my knowledge, and from my own personal experiences, not much. The 2005 Westchester County Databook, Housing Edition (note: Housing Edition is an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file), holds the following information:

The Average Median Income for a 1-person household as of January 30, 2004 was $65,400. The reason that this figure is important is because it's used to determine eligibility for Section 8 housing. Westchester County has a web page that explains the eligibility and requirements for Section 8. Since Section 8 pays only 70% of the monthly rent, and in 2004, the average monthly rent for a studio apartment was $960, that means that the most that Section 8 will cover for a studio apartment in Westchester County is $672. Consider that studio apartments are quite rare in Westchester, and even then, one normally would pay more than $960/month for it, but Section 8 still covers only up to $672/month, so if one finds a studio apartment in Westchester for around $1100, and one is eligible for Section 8, one still must ay $428/month, and that's just the rent!

Add in electricity (the New York City region has the highest electric rates out of any municipality in the nation,( see the NYC Comptroller's report (PDF) and this lawsuit filed by the NYS Attorney General) and other utilities, and those on limited incomes are easily paying close to $1,000/month for subsidized housing. Considering that most people on limited incomes earn around $1,000/month, how can this be considered "affordable"?

In my case, I earn $1,155/month from Social Security Disability. Out of this, I pay $88/month for Medicare health coverage (and I still have to pay at least 20% of my health provider's bills, in addition to any amount that Medicare does not cover), as well as around $40/month for my Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Coverage. That least me with a whopping $1,027/month. Out of that, I pay around $100 for my phone, $300 for car insurance. Add in gasoline for my car (currently at around $3.55/gallon), and I'm spending around $600/month for basic bills. That leaves me with $400/month to spend on rent, and food. I spend about $100/week on food and prescription drugs (I still have to pay for a portion of my prescription drugs, even though I now pay $40/month for "prescription drug coverage" from Medicare -- what a ripoff!!!!) (I don't get any assistance for food, and I'm not eligible for any, but more on that later), so that leaves me with $0 for rent. Fun stuff, right?

Quite honestly, I really would be better off dead. Ida Perkins had it right -- it's not worth it to grow old, or to get any older.