Cutting Basic Needs to Pay Rent

“If something had to be cut short, I’d have to decide between paying a medical bill or buying food. My rent can’t be cut short – I have to have a roof over my head.”

– Brenda, Stockton Resident

Brenda’s Story

Many of us face housing challenges, but for Brenda, a retired 74-year-old senior citizen living in Stockton, balancing rent and other financial needs becomes even more burdensome. Brenda shared with the Housing Justice Coalition that her apartment is “a very nice place and it’s convenient to get to but the rent is still too much for [her] income.” Brenda lives in an apartment complex categorized as affordable housing with rent at $584 a month. Her monthly SSI is set at $1,037. More than half of Brenda’s income goes to rent. Brenda claims that “If it hadn’t been for services such as EBT for food, [she] wouldn’t be able to pay rent.” The rest of Brenda’s income is distributed amongst other expenses in the form of medical bills, prescription costs, gas, and unforeseeable car repairs.

When the bulk of a household’s income goes to rent, basic needs often go unmet. Brenda had to stop taking one of her medications because it became too expensive. It was a sleeping aid that cost $160. Brenda needed it because she lives on the bottom floor of a two-story building. The family above her has young children that are “extremely noisy, pounding, running, and jumping [on the floors].” Brenda has filed multiple complaints but states that “there is only so much you can do” when it comes to kids and after so many complaints with no change, “you just give up.” She shares that, “[most] senior citizens are pushed under the carpet.” As a result, Brenda resorted to purchasing noise-canceling headphones and suffers from sleepless nights in what she feels is like “senior abuse.”

For many seniors, housing cost burden leads to difficult decisions when it comes to budgeting their limited and fixed income. Brenda has had to “decide between paying a medical bill or getting food. Something would have to be cut short, but [her] rent can’t be cut short [because she has] to have a roof over [her] head.” So Brenda has chosen to cut her medication, limiting how much she spends on medical bills in order to ensure that she can continue to pay her rent. She even limits how much gas she puts in her car by “not driving too much and stretching it as best [as she] can.”

Having a roof over Brenda’s head is of most importance. It is her home and where she finds privacy, safety, security, and peace. She says it is “very difficult for elderly people and [she] really doesn’t want to have to move from this particular area [that] is just perfect” for her. Brenda is grateful for her home and wishes to stay but paying so much for rent means that she is at risk of losing her home one day, something that she is trying hard to avoid by sacrificing many of her basic needs.

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