Senior Times: HPC Helps Seniors Make Smart Choices In A Tough Housing Market

By: Debra Lawless

Seniors need to make some difficult decisions in the current real estate market. FILE PHOTO

You have probably seen the stunning Cape Cod statistics detailing how few houses are on the market for under $1 million — just 149 in March, down from 1,000 two years ago.

The median price for a single-family home on the Cape is $650,000 — up $214,000 in just two years.

In other words, it’s a sellers’ market, and problems with tight and expensive housing have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We’ve sort of passed a crisis,” Hadley Luddy, CEO of the Homeless Prevention Council (HPC), said last week during a conference call. “We’re in a situation that’s worse than we’ve ever seen.”

Spending 60 percent of a family’s income on housing is “not a sustainable model,” she added.

This is where the non-profit HPC in Orleans can help. The HPC’s goal is to “empower you to attain financial independence and preserve your housing” by providing “personalized case management to assess your situation individually,” according to its website. HPC case managers are now reaching out to seniors in the eight communities on the Lower and Outer Cape to help them plan for housing.

Last year the HPC helped over 2,700 people, the largest ever in its 31 years. “We’re just trying to keep people here,” Luddy said. “That’s our goal.”

While the HPC helps all ages, it runs a “Let’s Talk About Tomorrow” program specifically for seniors facing housing and financial instability before they reach a crisis point. Seniors can talk with HPC case managers to establish a plan to encourage housing stability through long-term planning.

“What happens if your partner dies? Can you afford to carry the mortgage?” HPC Senior Case Manager Maureen Linehan asked during the call.

Planning ahead is the key because if you’re homeless and living in your car, it can be one to two years before housing can be found for you. And if you’re living somewhere, it will be five to seven years.

So what do you do if you’re a senior living in a rental house and your landlord decides to sell? What if your landlord dies? In a housing market where many sales are in cash, you might be forced to leave your home in as little as 30 days.

When a senior has abruptly been made homeless, the HPC sometimes looks off-Cape to help find housing. There are 351 towns and cities in the state — a case worker might look for a housing authority with 100-plus units, where turnover will be greater than in a smaller unit. Linehan tells people that if they have “any connection to someone off Cape” to look in that town.

While many Cape housing developments are currently being put together, they will not come on line for the next three to seven years, Luddy said, adding that this period will be particularly challenging.

While housing is a particular prominent concern right now, the HPC helps seniors with other issues.

For example, the price of heating fuel has risen recently. The HPC “can help you with that and stabilize your situation,” Luddy said. “Don’t wait until you’re in a crisis.” The HPC is certified to process fuel assistance applications.

In one case, a concerned neighbor steered an elderly priest to the HPC. It turned out that the priest lived alone, and suffered from dementia. His immediate need was that his furnace had broken, and he needed fuel assistance. Once HPC worked out those issues, the HPC arranged for someone to come in and make his meals and clean his house.

“He was so happy – until the day he died, he was able to stay in his own home,” Linehan said.

Again, planning ahead is the best policy. A senior couple consulted Linehan to ask if the plan they had made in the event that one of them died was workable. She crunched numbers and talked to them about housing. She “did all the scenarios,” and concluded their plan was “healthy and safe for them.”

“You don’t want to come after all your savings is gone,” Linehan added.

Seniors are eligible to move into state housing at age 60 and into federal housing at age 62.

To help seniors plan, including aging in place solutions, the Chatham and Harwich Councils on Aging have partnered with the HPC. Linehan is at the Chatham Senior Center at 193 Stony Hill Rd. on the first and third Thursdays from 10 to noon. She is then at the Chatham Housing Authority at 240 Crowell Rd. from noon to 2 p.m. (She will next be in Chatham on May 19.) She is at the Harwich Council on Aging at 100 Oak St. on Tuesdays from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. (with her next appointments on May 17). To make a private appointment and to make arrangements to pick up a pre-appointment packet, call Linehan at 774-801-9501.

In addition, the HPC will be hosting its Fourth Annual Walk for Home on Saturday, June 11 at 10 a.m. For more information, visit hpccapecod.org.