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Local seniors say housing costs are almost too much

Tahlequah Daily Press - 5/23/2024

May 23—In today's economic environment, seniors struggle to pay for housing on fixed incomes, leaving little each month for food, clothing and medicine.

One community in Tahlequah that works hard to keep rent stable for seniors is Davis Retirement Apartments. Owned by Veraman and Billie Davis for over 40 years, the complex is home to retired and disabled individuals.

Manager Lisa Williams said one- and two-bedroom apartments are available, and at the current rate cost $500-$600 a month. But there is a waiting list for apartments.

"They keep [the rent] reasonable because [they] want to rent to seniors and those on a fixed income. That way they know they can afford it and don't get in a bind," Williams said.

Vesta and Terrill Barnoskie live in the community in a two-bedroom apartment. Vesta has lived in her apartment for 16 years. Three years ago, she married Terrill and he moved in with her.

Vesta said Davis had the best prices, and the rent doesn't go up from the original contract amount for residents.

The rates offered by other rental properties would not be possible on their income, Vesta said. The cable, water and sewer are paid by management, and the only utilities residents pay are electric and phone.

"We are looking at having to get another car, so struggling with how we are going to do this," Vesta said. "I feel bad for people who don't have any assistance. Terrill gets a bit of assistance from Cherokee Nation for rent."

Terrill said he felt even with a car payment, they should be able to manage.

"We'll just do without groceries and we'll be fine," Vesta said, laughing.

Candy Wolf is the Barnoskie's neighbor. The former owner of Echota House Restaurant, Wolf said she doesn't know how she would make it if something happened that required her to move and find another place.

"For comparison, we shut the restaurant down 10 years ago, and [at that time] a 10-ounce ribeye was $10.95," Wolf said. "So that's how inflation has gone since we shut it down."

Wolf lives in a two-bedroom, one-bath unit. She moved in 10 years ago and pays $520. If she had to move, she said, it would be difficult to find an affordable place.

"If I had to do that, I would be in trouble and have to ask for help," Wolf said. "I think I earn just enough that I couldn't get help. In fact, I went back to work for two days a week — and I'm 78 years old — to help make ends meet."

Wolf said she wanted to point out the good things about her life.

"I'm comfortable, all of my needs are met, my tummy is full, I have a roof over my head and I have an old cat, a church community and neighbors who share what we have," Wolf said.

Wolf volunteers for a food pantry and said she brought home some blueberries and shared them with her neighbors.

"My neighbor had extra oranges and she shared," Wolf said. "It's a very compassionate and loving community. I'm fiercely independent — we all are. It's difficult for us as seniors because [resources that are available] have to be connected with online, and it's hard. We need a hub here where we seniors can make an appointment and go get help."

Jody Walters lives across from Wolf and the Barnoskies, and enjoys the spirit of giving with his neighbors. He is living on disability payments and social security.

"I've been here for five years and get help from the Cherokee Nation," Walters said. "Friends outside of this community — there are a lot who are struggling to find an affordable home."

The biggest challenge for Walters is paying for a movie, groceries or clothes.

"Once you pay all your bills, you are basically broke," Walters said. "I don't believe they give enough for people to live on with disability and Social Security."

Brenda Nowell was kicked out of her home by a caregiver who talked her into putting a small cottage on some land the caregiver owned. Nowell couch-surfed for a period of time before she finally managed to secure a place at Davis Retirement Apartments.

She was visibly upset at the thought of what would happen if she lost her apartment. Hugging her dog, she told the story of becoming homeless after the caretaker kicked her out.

"She was not a good person and talked me into renting a little cabin and putting it on the land. When she got tired of me, she ran me off and kept all my stuff," Nowell said. "I've lived here about 2-1/2 years and pay $550 and get about $1,060 a month."

Nowell doesn't spend money on anything outside of essentials, and her clothes are hand-me-downs, but she said, "God provides."

"I have Humana and get $120 spending allowance and $24 in food stamps, and that's all the assistance I get," Nowell said.

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(c)2024 the Tahlequah Daily Press (Tahlequah, Okla.)

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