“Affording” a home

March 15, 2016

I think it’s time to move.

I have been in my current apartment for 10 years. The longest I ever spent in one place before this was a year and a half. I didn’t mean to stay here so long, but inertia set in, and years passed, and here I am.

Every 2-3 years I look for a new apartment. I get discouraged when I can’t find anything nicer than what I’ve got for the same price, even in a less popular neighborhood. And I like my neighbors. So I stay. And then the next year I consider moving again. It’s a tiresome cycle.

But this year may just be the year. I’m tired of this. I want a change. And my recent dog experience made me realize that if I’m going to move, I should do it now, before I get a dog, because it would just be too hard to move with a new pup in my life.

In the past, I always set my housing budget based on my income and the others things I spent money on. When I moved to my current place, it was more expensive than where I was moving from, but I decided it was worth giving up some of the extras in my budget so I could afford it.

Now it’s different. My social security disability and other benefits cover my non-rent expenses and I have a few hundred dollars left over to put towards rent. But a few hundred won’t do it around here. Until now I’ve been taking the rest of the rent from my savings, but that won’t work forever.

I won’t get a roommate. Not only would I hate having a roommate, but I couldn’t share the kitchen with someone unless they also had Celiac Disease. So let’s assume no roommate. What are my options?

I can stay where I am. My guess is that my rent will be going up when I renew my lease (I’ll find out in a few weeks.) Let’s say staying here would be $1600 per month, including heat but no other utilities.

I could move to a nearby town where I’d like to live, and pay around $1500, including heat.

I could move to a town a bit further out and pay $1400, including heat.

I could move an hour away and pay only $1100, but have no friends or social life nearby.

I could put all my savings into buying a condo, with a mortgage lower than my rent. But then, when I add in condo fees, property taxes, and repairs, I’d be paying about the same as I pay in rent, but, I’d have put my savings into the down payment.

I could buy a single family house with a mortgage about the same as my rent. There’d be no condo fees, but I’d still be pulling money out of savings every month unless I could start earning more…. but there’s be less in savings because I’d have used it for the down payment.

I could move farther out and buy a 3-family house, live on the first floor and rent out the other two floors. My savings would go into the down payment, but the rent from those two apartments would cover my mortgage, property taxes, and house repairs.

Obviously the last option makes the most financial sense, but it has some problems. I’d have to move at least 45 minutes away, maybe more. That means I wouldn’t see my friends as much or socialize as much. I know nothing about owning a house. I’ve always rented. And I can’t fix anything, or event attempt to learn, because of my health problems, so I’d have to hire someone to fix every little problem. I’d have to deal with tenants. But on the bright side, if the rent from the tenants covered my costs, I could basically live there for free. Then my social security would cover the rest of my expenses (medical bills, car, etc.) and I wouldn’t have to worry about doing any other work.

I would probably buy a 3-family house if I could do it near where I am now, but it’s simply not feasible here (it would be at least $600k.)

So that brings me back to renting as the simplest, most straightforward option. But I can’t afford to rent indefinitely unless I start earning a living.

Blech. I keep running around in this circle in my mind. I look at apartments and condos and houses online and I run the numbers over and over again. I’ve done the research on how to calculate for vacancies when renting out. I’m good with numbers. But no matter what I do, the numbers just don’t add up.

The answer is obvious, really: move away. But my life is here. My friends, my social life, my chronic pain support group, my doctors….everyone is here. I can’t imagine starting over.

I’m lucky that I have options. I know that. I am incredibly lucky. I’m thankful that I saved up some money back when I was working. I’m lucky that my family has helped me out from time to time. But that luck isn’t enough to support my current lifestyle. So I’m just not sure what to do.

And in case any of you regular readers are wondering about Section 8, I’ve been keeping an eye out for places that would work with that, too, but I’m not seeing anything. And considering how inept they’ve been about processing my paperwork, I’m not exactly holding my breath that it will come through anyway. So, it’s in the back of my mind as a potential option, but I don’t think it will solve this conundrum for me….


How dare they!

March 8, 2016

Last year I got a surprising letter in the mail: I was coming up on the waiting list for Section 8! Section 8 is a housing program where the tenant pays up to 30% of their income in rent and the government pays the rest. This is huge!

Now, it’s not all great. Section 8 has strict rent limits that are very hard to meet. For example, in my town the rent would need to be no more than $1187 per month, including all utilities. I haven’t heard of a 1-bedroom apartment for so little in many years. Still, I figured it would be worth trying.

The waiting list for Section 8 can be 3-4 years. I’ve only been on the list for 2 years! Wow! So now it’s time to prepare, right? They need a lot of paperwork. Of course. I handed it all over.

Now, if you’ve ever applied for benefits in the U.S., you know how intrusive it can be. They want to know how much your income is. They want to know your spending on every little thing. They want your social security card, driver’s license, bank statements, copies of approval letters for all other benefits (because heaven forbid the agencies actually speak to each other!) and all sorts of other things. But I do it, because that’s how I’m sort of paying the bills right now.

I really hate handing over bank statements. There’s something about that which feels particularly intrusive and unnerving. But I did it. 12 months of bank statements. It took ages to print out all of the statements and white out the account numbers. Still, they showed which bank was mine, how much money I had, what I deposited, what I paid out, my name and address, etc.

And they lost them.

Yesterday I got a letter in the mail saying they needed my bank statements. I contacted the woman in charge of my case and she said she didn’t have them. I had her look again. She still didn’t have them.

What the fuck!?! They lost my bank statements for all of 2015!!

And now they want another copy. I know they want that copy before they’ll give me benefits, but is it worth it? Because honestly, I don’t know that it is. I’m not sure I’ll be able to use Section 8 anyway. And what if they lose them again? I was so unnerved that I didn’t even want to mail those statements, so I hand delivered them to the office. I really couldn’t have done more.

I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I know I’m pissed. And I’m going to let them know that. Because this is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE!


Yes, I’m one of them

December 9, 2015

I was talking to some friends about some tough decisions I need to make about benefits. One of them said, more than once, that I might need them for a while, but those benefits aren’t meant for my “demographic.” They’re not for people like me. But the thing is, they really are.

I understand why she said it. We both grew up in middle class families in the same middle class neighborhood. We both went to college, then graduate school. We both got middle class jobs. We followed all the “rules” and now we’re supposed to have our happy middle class lifestyles. She is a stay at home mom. Her husband earns a very large salary. She has that middle class lifestyle.

I don’t.

There’s an idea that benefits are meant for other people. The people who aren’t middle class. The people who don’t have jobs. Well, as it turns out, that’s me.

Those benefits are for people with physical and mental illness. People who can’t work. Yup, me again.

People think they’re for people who are older. But they aren’t. They’re for people of all ages. Including people in their 30s like me.

My friend means well. She tries to understand. She is one of the only people in my life who knew me before I was sick, and she understands my health problems better than most. But she can’t accept that it’s permanent because she doesn’t want to. It hurts her to think of me in pain. I get that. I feel the same when someone close to me is in pain; I pretend it can’t be serious or permanent, even when it obviously is. That’s how she feels about me.

But it doesn’t change things.

So yes, I’m one of those people. The other ones. The ones who aren’t us. Except sometimes they are. Sometimes they’re one of us. Sometimes we’re one of them. It doesn’t matter if you grew up rich or poor or somewhere in between, whether you got advanced degrees or didn’t finish high school, you can be too sick to work. And when that happens, benefits like food stamps, Medicaid, and section 8 are helpful. Even when we don’t want them, we need them.

Like it or not, we’re one of them.


I lost thousands of dollars of financial assistance because I didn’t understand the system

August 30, 2014

I grew up in a middle class family and lived a middle class lifestyle after I left my parents’ home. I earned a decent enough living. There was a lot I couldn’t afford, but I never worried about paying rent or buying food.

Then I got sicker.

It’s been a roller coaster since I left my job almost 3 years ago. I had short term disability benefits, then nothing, then long term disability benefits, then nothing, then social security disability benefits. During the long periods of “nothing” I knew there was the possibility of getting long term disability benefits and/or social security disability benefits (SSDI.) I didn’t know what I’d end up with, so I didn’t know how to plan. And besides, I kept hoping that I’d return to work soon.

Now I have SSDI and no thoughts of returning to full time work very soon. I hope to do some part time work to supplement SSDI, but even that has to wait until I feel a bit healthier. And I just can’t live on my current benefit and keep my current lifestyle. After paying for food, transportation, utilities, and, especially, medical expenses, I have about $100 per month left for rent. Obviously, that won’t work. Even if I got roommates. So what are my options?

  • I could move in with my parents. They’d take me in. I’d have to move an hour away from all of my friends and doctors and be a 30-something living with my parents, but it’s an option.
  • I could buy a condo. I still have savings from back when I worked. Unfortunately, I’m spending them on rent now. Instead, I could buy a condo. But then I’d have HOA fees ($200-300/month) and upkeep, and I don’t have the budget for that.
  • I could buy a house. But then I’d have a mortgage and upkeep. No good.
  • I could buy a 3-family house. I could live in one apartment and rent out the other two and use the rental income to pay the mortgage and upkeep costs. This has some appeal. I’ve looked into it. But 3-family homes are really expensive around here, and even if I felt comfortable taking on such a big mortgage, I wouldn’t qualify for it. And I’m not ready to move out of the Boston area.
  • I could push myself to go back to work before I’m ready. But obviously that has disaster written all over it.
  • I could just keep on spending my savings and hope I’m well enough to return to work before they run out.

I’ve been sort of stressing about this. I feel like there should be another option. And then talking to a fellow disabled friend yesterday, I found it: financial assistance! When I left my job two years ago I looked into my options for help, but I was stuck trying to interpret things online myself. I didn’t know who to ask for help. I checked around with friends, but it wasn’t helpful. And since I didn’t know what my financial position would be going forward, I gave up. Bad move.

On Tuesday, as soon as the long weekend is over, I’m going to visit my local house authority and sign up for section 8 housing. The waiting list is long, and I’m pissed as hell that I didn’t sign up 2 years ago. I could have already been on the waiting list for 2 years! Since the wait is longer than that, I should have done it. But I didn’t realize. I thought that if I got long term disability benefits, I’d get kicked off the list. And I didn’t want to have to live in section 8 housing. As it turns out, those LTD benefits would have still had be below the income limit. Who knew? And many section 8 vouchers allow you to live in any housing, as long as it meets certain requirements (generally that it’s around the median rental rate for your area, and not some huge luxury unit, and that it’s well maintained and habitable.)

And then my friend told me more: I qualify for fuel assistance! Having heat isn’t optional in Boston. Without it, pipes freeze and burst. Even more, you can freeze to death. You must have heat. And apparently I can get help paying for it, even though it’s included in the cost of my rent! She also said she gets help paying her electric bill – that had never occurred to me! Best of all, she told me where to go to find out more about these resources.

Since it was a Friday evening, I couldn’t call any of the offices, so I went online. Now that I knew where to look and what to look for, there was so much information! She got the information from her local housing authority, so I found their web site, then the site for my town’s housing authority, and I just followed the links from there. I still need to talk to someone to get questions answered, but boy do I feel better. If only I’d done all of this two years ago, though! I’m kicking myself that I didn’t.

I’m including below some of the useful links I’ve found so far. Clicking these links will open up new windows. As I find more, I’ll add them later. These are for Massachusetts. If you’re in the U.S., maybe these will help you find similar resources in your own state.

I’ve already missed out on thousands of dollars of financial assistance by not signing up for all of this two years earlier. What about you? If there’s financial assistance you could be getting, don’t make my mistake! Sign up now! And please help me make further mistakes by telling me what else I should be doing!

What other financial assistance should I be looking for? I welcome any and all advice!!

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Section 8 centralized waiting list: https://secure.massnahro.org/Section8LHA_Internet/WebPages/Registration/Home.aspx

Types of rental assistance: http://www.mass.gov/hed/housing/rental-assistance/

Fuel assistance agencies: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dta/c-dta-fuelassist.pdf

Fuel assistance overview: http://www.massresources.org/liheap.html

Section 8 explanation: http://www.masslegalhelp.org/housing/types-vouchers

SNAP food assistance: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/food-assistance.html


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