The Challenges of Finding Affordable Housing in Retirement

The Kawashimas, who came to the United States from Japan many years ago, had lived in their apartment for decades. The couple had a good relationship with their landlord, spent time with neighbors in their apartment complex and enjoyed a peaceful and comfortable retirement.

That all changed when a letter arrived in the mail.

After years with the same landlord, the couple was unexpectedly notified of an ownership change. They signed an agreement and one week later received that letter in the mail. They thought this letter was about apartment policy changes due to the recent change in ownership.

“I first thought it was letting us know that we had to notify the owner 60 days in advance if we ever decided to move out,” Mr. Kawashima recalls.

Several days later, as they reread the notification with their neighbors, the Kawashimas realized it was a notification ordering everyone to vacate the building within 60 days.

“They just sent us over a simple letter, telling us to get out. And even to this day, when I remember this, I still get emotional about it. I am still very angry.”

Double the Rent

Not knowing what to do, the Kawashimas immediately consulted with Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), a nonprofit organization that had provided assistance to the couple in the past. LTSC informed them that they, along with other residents of that apartment, had been paying rent that was far below the market rate.

The Kawashimas asked their new owner what would happen if they chose to continue to live in the apartment after those 60 days. The reply surprised the couple.

“They told me they would double our rent,” said Mr. Kawashima. “Can you believe it?”

Mr. Kawashima initially hoped he and his wife wouldn’t have to move out and that there was some other solution. But after learning of the rent hike, a sense of urgency set in.

Along with their neighbors, the Kawashimas were confused and angry.

According to Sayo Hwang, a social worker at Little Tokyo Service Center, this dramatic rent increase occurred because there was no rent control in the area where the couple lived. Sayo explained that LTSC has other clients who face similar problems.

Search for a New Home

What followed for the Kawashimas was a hectic two months. With Sayo’s help, they searched for a new place to live. The couple does not drive, so they took public transportation and even walked to look for their new home. They even considered living at a hotel if they could not find new housing in time. Finding a living situation that fit within their budget was a challenge. Since they were retired, they also hoped to avoid having to go through credit checks.

Finally, 10 days before their deadline to move out, the Kawashimas found an apartment. The couple still needed to pack up all of their possessionsand their new landlord required them to pay additional fees, including a security deposit and their first month’s rent, ahead of time.

Fortunately, their LTSC social worker was able to help the couple receive financial assistance through the Client Assistance Fund, a new partnership program of Keiro and LTSC. This program provides financial support to older adults experiencing immediate financial crises.  The Client Assistance Fund helped cover the couple’s moving fee and the first month’s rent for their new apartment.

“Really, the kindness and generosity we received from Keiro and Little Tokyo Service Center is huge. If we didn’t, we really don’t know what we would have done. I will never forget how heartless the new owner was and the deep kindness I received from [Keiro and LTSC].”