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Place to call home can fall out from under senior citizens

Mary McPeak, 73, in her Brookline apartment. She moved into 2Life Communities' Brown Family House in October 2020 after spending a year "couch-surfing," renting a room in an apartment, and applying for other senior housing units only to find waiting lists as long as 5 to 10 years.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Instead of easing their move, we should be finding ways to help them stay where they are

I have read, with great interest, Matt Stout’s article “Seniors stuck in state’s pricey housing market” (Page A1, Sept. 9). It certainly goes into great detail about the conundrum faced by low-income residents and many fixed-income retirees.

I can’t help but feel that we are trying to solve this problem with Band-Aids, running blind to its root cause. Instead of spending state funds to make it easier for seniors to find so-called affordable housing, why don’t we look at making it more affordable for them to stay in the homes they have worked so hard to obtain?

Why are we blind to the inequity of taxing low-income and fixed-income senior citizens based on a raging financial market? How would you react if the federal government decided to tax you on the unrealized gains of the home you live in? Rising local property taxes are taking food off the tables of many seniors. Unrealized gains are not putting it back.

To be sure, Chapter 59, the state law on the assessment of local taxes, contains a variety of real estate tax exemptions for seniors, but they are A) not easy to apply for, B) difficult to qualify for, and C) offer Lilliputian tax relief.


Three bills currently before the Legislature offer substantial relief for seniors at no cost to the state and with minor tax increases for nonseniors. One calls for a freeze on senior house assessments. Another suggests that taxes should be based on means. A third is a rewrite of Chapter 59 clause 5C for seniors.

These bills attack the root cause of the conundrum and deserve support. Passage of any one of them would go a long way toward unraveling the snags facing senior citizens.

Peter Barbella



He’s grateful to have found a place after months on couches

Affordable housing for the elderly and people with disabilities has been a dilemma for well over a decade in Greater Boston (“Seniors stuck in state’s pricey housing market”). In 2011, having lost my “in-law” apartment when the owners sold their home, I was in a situation similar to that of Mary McPeak, who was featured in Matt Stout’s article. For nine months, I had little employment and no fixed address except for the post office box I had rented.

When one of the students in a local youth group I volunteered with asked with concern where I was staying at the time, I replied, “Oh, I’m just sleeping around with friends.” There was a slightly shocked silence on her part, and then she replied tactfully, “Couch-surfing. I think the term you are looking for is ‘couch-surfing.’ ”

Had I read an article back then such as Stout’s insightful report on the problem, I might at least have become more familiar with modern vernacular. Shortly thereafter, a unit did open up in a Salem Housing Authority facility, where the parking is limited and the building under frequent repair. However, given the desperate situation many my age could be in, I am grateful for it.

Price Grisham