There’s been a really interesting debate playing out on SavannahNow the last few days.
First came this piece about a Savannah retiree, 90-year old Mary Hilton, who has been living for 60 years at the soon-to-be-history Strathmore Estates, which is being demolished as part of a large affordable housing initiative. Ms. Hilton will be able to move into the new complex, but not right away. Her son objects to the delay and the prospect of two moves.
But what might have been a story in a previous era about an elderly woman forced to uproot has largely become a story about money. Hilton’s combined Social Security and retirement income is $3220/month, while her rent is just $294/month. So she’s only spending about 9% of her income on housing, while housing is usually defined as affordable if it doesn’t exceed 30% of income. By that measure, Hilton could pay out of pocket almost $1,000/month.
As I write this, there have been 74 comments on the article on SavannahNow, with the majority questioning her right to any sort of subsidized housing.
And it’s a good question.
Now, $3,220 is not a huge amount of money in the big scheme of things, and Ms. Hilton might have to pay out of pocket for medical bills or other expenses that we don’t know about. Still, it seems pretty clear that if she is in good enough physical shape to live on her own — and she apparently is — then she is in good enough financial shape to live without any sort of housing subsidy.
An editorial explores the issue today.
Yes, this would seem to be an example of government largesse, and there are probably plenty of others living in subsidized units who could pay more than they currently are. But there are many seniors who could pay more for benefits that cost the federal government far, far more — or who could get by with far less in direct payments. My parents, for example, could pay significantly higher premiums for Medicare than they currently do. Many wealthy retirees have no financial need of any Social Security payments. I could go on and on.
If we’re going to get this upset about one woman receiving at most a couple hundred dollars a month in subsidized rent (surely those Strathmore units were worth less than $500/month), maybe we should channel that energy to much bigger and much more expensive programs worthy of examination first.