In Wenatchee Valley, seniors in need of affordable housing face long waits and cultural barriers

by Renee Diaz, Washington State Standard
July 6, 2024

In Wenatchee, Garden Terrace and other low-income senior housing facilities are overwhelmed with demand, painting a complex picture of the city’s multicultural, yet unevenly served, population.

Despite the diversity, affordable senior-housing units are predominantly occupied by white residents, with only a small fraction belonging to Latino and other minority communities. This disparity invites a deeper inquiry. Is this an issue of affordability, accessibility, cultural preferences or perhaps a combination of all three? The answers to these questions could reveal much about the social and economic dynamics at play in Wenatchee.

Currently, every low-income housing option through Garden Terrace and the housing authorities of Chelan and Douglas counties have a long waitlist.

Housing turns over less frequently, and seniors tend to stay in place much longer. There’s a risk of homelessness for those who can’t afford to rent at market rates, said Alicia McRae, the executive director of the Housing Authority of Chelan County and the City of Wenatchee (CCWHA).

“We refer people to other housing in the community, but I think everyone has waiting lists. But Garden Terrace would be one,” she said.

Shawna Smith, a manager at Garden Terrace, said their facilities are in high demand, and they don’t need to do much advertising because of the waitlists. The waitlist in Wenatchee is three years, and more than 100 people are waiting to be placed in a one-bedroom unit.

“The need is here. We receive calls daily from people who are going to be homeless because their landlord is raising their rent. What is going to happen to our seniors? This has been my mission here,” Smith said.

The building and the housing authority cannot accommodate the needs of applicants. Between 2017 and 2021, Chelan County’s Multifamily Tax Exemption program created an average of 44 housing units per year, meeting only 19% of the projected annual need for low-income housing units, according to the Washington State Department of Commerce.

McRae said locations outside of Wenatchee have shorter wait times. However, that means seniors will be farther away from their daily needs.

“Seniors want to be closer to the doctor if they need to go to appointments. They want to be in places where they can walk to the store. I think this is why the waitlist outside Wenatchee is lower,” she said.

Chelan County meets 56% of the projected low-income housing need according to the Washington State Department of Commerce. The population of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) represents less than 10% of those utilizing low-income senior housing units.

Smith expressed a desire to improve these statistics, recognizing that low-income housing units can provide valuable support for families. She encourages people from all backgrounds to apply, yet she wonders if awareness of these resources is widespread and whether the Hispanic community may be hesitant to choose senior housing options.

“I’ve grown up here and I have noticed my friends in the Hispanic community keep their household generational,” Smith said. “Elders stay with their family in their homes.”

Maria Romero said that she has been struggling to find affordable housing.

“It is really difficult for elders to pay rent. I have been looking for low-income housing for almost four years,” Romero said in Spanish.

Some find that the wait list is too long, and they have given up. “The wait is too long, it’s too much and because of that I haven’t looked anymore,” added Alicia Romero in Spanish. She’s also faced challenges finding housing.

Another issue is that some people don’t know where to find resources or even know that they are eligible for low-income housing.

“The lack of information, I don’t know where to look and things aren’t in Spanish. Where do I get this information?” Manuel Avilla, a senior looking for affordable housing, said in Spanish.

Sahari Fiores currently works as a caregiver. She knows people who would qualify for low-income assisted housing, but are waiting for a unit to open. This includes people in the Hispanic community and outside of it.

“This is sad that people really need these resources and they are not getting them,” Fiores said in Spanish. “In my opinion, they need to give these resources to elders because they can no longer work. Wenatchee isn’t that small anymore, the need is growing.”

Fiores’ mother currently lives with her and the rest of her family.

“In our culture, we don’t abandon our elders. A lot of things can happen, but we don’t forget about them,” Fiores said. “In my work [as a caregiver] those people suffer because their kids are in other states. Our job in my culture, as kids, is to take care of our parents.”

This article was first published by The Wenatchee World in collaboration with Northwest Public Broadcasting through the Murrow College of Communication Local News Fellowship Program.

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