Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of a seven-part series about the housing crisis in southern Utah. Read the other stories through the links at the bottom. This work depends on our subscribers, and we thank you for your new and continued support.

Life isn’t going as expected for 69-year-old Cathy Coleman, she has lived in the St. George area for 17 years and feels like she is being pushed out of the area due to housing costs.

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“I’ve been here 17 years,” said Coleman. “There needs to be a bridge for somebody like me. I don’t want to go to the shelter. So there needs to be something where I can go for six months. So that I can find affordable housing.”

Now she doesn’t have a home or car and has been living in a motel miles outside of St. George with her dog, Smiley. Coleman hasn’t had a fixed address for over a year since her landlord decided to stop renting her the apartment in Dixie Downs in order to sell it for a profit due to the rapidly increasing housing prices.

“For a whole year, I feel like I’ve been bounced around,” said Coleman.

This past year Coleman left St. George and lived with family in Illinois, then returned to southern Utah for a promising fresh start, which quickly turned into a domestic violence situation ending in a protective order.

Coleman says that since April she has been looking for housing in southern Utah while living in a motel but hasn’t found any attainable options due to her only income being Social Security checks.

“I’ve looked for places to rent,” said Coleman. “They want $1,200 a month. I’m like, you know, how is a person is supposed to survive.”

Cathy Coleman
There needs to be a bridge for somebody like me. I don’t want to go to the shelter. So there needs to be something where I can go for six months. So that I can find affordable housing.

Often senior citizens rely on retirement savings or income received through Social Security benefits for their living and housing expenses. The math doesn’t always work, though.

The Social Security Administration reported 64.7 million people received benefits in 2020 with the average retiree getting $1,544 in monthly benefits. Disabled workers receive $1,277 in monthly benefits.

Coleman has been on social security benefits for years now and says those benefits don’t cover housing or transportation costs.

Coleman isn’t the only person with a limited income facing housing problems, a Community Development Block Grant report which details St. George’s population housing and income situations says senior citizens are prone to face housing problems.

“The elderly population is often on a limited income and/or has a disability, which puts financial pressure on them that reduces independence,” the report said.

Jacob Browning, the director of the Washington County Council on Aging, said the shift to a fixed income is often difficult for seniors.

“Housing continues to be a problem and hard for them to find especially if they shift from a steady income to a fixed income that is always a big turning point in someone’s life,” Browning said.

Jacob Browning, director of the Washington County Council on Aging
Housing continues to be a problem and hard for them to find especially if they shift from a steady income to a fixed income that is always a big turning point in someone’s life.

St. George and Washington County have long been known for being a retirement destination due to warm weather, outdoor space and slow lifestyle. It has a sizable senior population about 22% of residents are over the age of 65, which equates to 39,662 senior citizens in the county.

Of these groups, 37.8% have disabilities that make it more difficult to live independently.

Though that number is likely higher due to snowbirds, a term used for part-time residents who live in southern Utah during colder months, according to Jacob Browning. He says the senior population is much bigger in winter and that senior programs almost double in size in December compared to summer months.

The senior population is only expected to grow as the baby boomer generation — those born between 1946 and 1965 — fully ages into retirement by 2030. Once this happens one in every five people in the U.S. will be retirement age, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Homeless seniors in St. George speak out about housing affordability

Chris Caldwell, K. Sophie Will and Sean Hemmersmeier, St. George Spectrum & Daily News

‘We have to build more or we cap our enrollment’

Another major population that faces housing difficulties due to fixed incomes is college students who often have busy schedules and can’t work full-time jobs. This year Southern Utah University asked students to live with relatives since the university couldn’t count on there being enough beds for students.

The university cited increased enrollment numbers some of which are due to students putting off college for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic and that the population of Cedar City has grown with more families moving into properties that have been traditionally for students.

Dixie State University (DSU) says it’s able to handle its housing needs for 12,000 students and the recently constructed Campus View Suites building helped the university handle increased demand, according to DSU Housing Director Seth Gubler. DSU now has just under 1,200 beds on campus and they work with students to find private housing options.

Dixie State University’s Campus View Suites.
Rendering provided by Dixie State University

The one housing area the university struggles with is finding units for students with families since they need more than a bed and a desk, according to Gubler. Adjustments to the DSU’s housing will need to be made in the future, according to Gubler.

“At some point, we have to build more or we cap our enrollment,” said Gubler.

The university is planning to expand, this year they announced plans to buy 183 acres in the Desert Color development with $15 million that was allocated by the state legislature. This land should house the university’s innovation, entrepreneurship and health sciences programs.

But the usage of the land won’t be finalized until an architectural master plan for the expanded campus is created, DSU’s expectation is that the land will be used for both academic buildings and student housing, according to DSU’s Director of public relations Jyl Hall.

There are multiple complexes in St. George that offer discount student rates, Coleman says it’s difficult seeing student housing being built and while longer-term residents struggle with housing options.

DSU's $15 million appropriation from the state legislature will enable the school to buy about 183 acres at Desert Color in St. George.
DSU’s $15 million appropriation from the state legislature will enable the school to buy about 183 acres at Desert Color in St. George.
Alex Santiago

Public housing

There are some public assistance programs for seniors in the area, the only public housing is the Dixie Sun Manor which is a 30-unit complex for adults over the age of 62. This complex is managed by the federally funded St. George Housing Authority and residents only pay 30% of their income which can range from $150 – $350, according to St. George Housing Authority Director Mike Barben.

Other public housing assistance programs are Section 8 Vouchers which are also administered by the St. George Housing Authority. These vouchers, distributed by funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and are meant to help low-income families, the elderly and the disabled the vouchers pay up to 110% of an area’s fair market value rent for housing, according to Barben.

Mike Barben, St. George Housing Authority director
It would break your heart to hear some of the things that come through this door: abuse, mental health issues, substance abuse, you see everything here. It’s tough to see. And they need housing.

On average over the last 16 months has spent $117,208.57 a month on Section 8 housing assistance, according to reports from the St. George Housing Authority.

HUD calculates fair market rent for every metro area in the U.S. each year and applies those valuations to the Section 8 program on Oct. 1. For the upcoming year, HUD says the fair market value rent for St. George for a one-bedroom is $898 and a two-bedroom is $1,089.

Coleman says she doesn’t utilize these programs since the waiting lists are too long and don’t help people that need affordable housing quickly.

“I tried to explain to people I have to find something now,” said Coleman.

These waitlists usually take one to two years to get off, according to Barben. He acknowledges the waiting list system is a difficult process since the housing authority deals with people leaving domestic violence situations like Coleman, people struggling with mental health issues and those recently evicted.

“There’s people that come through this door every single day,” said Barben. “It would break your heart to hear some of the things that come through this door: abuse, mental health issues, substance abuse, you see everything here. It’s tough to see. And they need housing.”

Mike Barben, St. George Housing Authority Executive Director, discusses challenges faced by community members looking for housing, July 15.
Mike Barben, St. George Housing Authority Executive Director, discusses challenges faced by community members looking for housing, July 15.
Chris Caldwell / The Spectrum & Daily News

The waiting lists need to be updated every six months. This requires the housing authority to send out check-up letters that verify if people are still living at the same address that is in the system and they still live in the area. Not everyone on the lists responds to these letters and some get purged from the waitlist, according to Barben.

Barben has worked at the St. George Housing Authority since 2008 and that since the pandemic started there has never been a higher demand for housing assistance. Since many people needing assistance either lost their jobs or wages during the pandemic. There has been some extra help due to the pandemic through the CARES Act some extra assistance was able to go the St. George Housing Authority in the form of an additional 61 mainstream and emergency.

Cathy Coleman, 69, has been living in a motel miles outside of St. George since he hasn't been able to find any other affordable housing options.
Cathy Coleman, 69, has been living in a motel miles outside of St. George since he hasn’t been able to find any other affordable housing options.
Sean Hemmersmeier / The Spectrum & Daily News

Often if people can’t receive help from housing authorities they’ll go to other support programs administered by the Five County Association of Governments or shelters that help housing insecure people like Switchpoint, according to Barben. But due to there not being enough resources in the area for low-income residents many are forced to live in their car or go to more populated areas like Salt Lake City or Las Vegas.

Coleman says she doesn’t want to go to shelters due to the stigma associated with being homeless and she can’t go to more populated areas with more resources for low-income people since she can’t afford a car. She doesn’t see her situation changing anytime soon and her outlook on the future is affected.

“I’m dreading it,” said Coleman. “I see me living in a motel a year from now.”

Not having a fixed address for the past year has left Coleman feeling “hopeless” and that what she wants is a stable living situation.

“I just want to be in a place and feel comfortable,” said Coleman. “I’m 69 years old, I don’t know how many more years I have.”

To delve deeper into the full scope of this crisis, The Spectrum has produced a seven-part series on the housing crisis in St. George and southern Utah. 

From more information on the city’s reports to zoning to minority issues to tourism management to struggles for students and seniors and to solutions to this problem, we’ve covered it all.

K. Sophie Will contributed reporting to this article.

Sean Hemmersmeier covers local government, growth and development in Southwestern Utah. Follow on twitter @seanhemmers34. Our work depends on subscribers so if you want more coverage on these issues you can subscribe here  http://www.thespectrum.com/subscribe.

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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