BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Senior citizens took to the streets of Bellingham Tuesday to protest rent hikes at an affordable housing complex.
Seniors are worried they are being squeezed out of their homes because "affordable housing" is becoming an oxymoron.
Mercy Housing operates 80 units of affordable housing in Bellingham. On Tuesday, tenants protested rate increases, saying many simply can't afford to live there anymore.
Like all of her friends living at Mercy's Eleanor apartments, Karina Davidson was thrilled to find a brand new, affordable housing complex when she first moved in.
Five years later, that feeling has faded.
"The stress this is causing to people is really, really phenomenal," Davidson said.
Earlier this month residents received a letter informing them their rents are going up 9% to $800.
For Davidson, that's more than 60% of her monthly income.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers housing to be affordable when it consumes less than 30 percent of a household’s income.
Davidson said it's simply unsustainable on a fixed income.
"Now, I don't know how long I can stay here. The terrifying part is, where do you go if you can't stay here? This is supposed to be affordable."
Mercy Housing told tenants their costs have increased exponentially -- including a 22% rise for utilities and 23% for insurance.
But the company also listed $76,000 for sidewalk repair.
"I thought they had lost their minds," said resident Patty Dawn.
Dawn told KING 5 she used to work for Mercy in California and said there is no reason low-income seniors should have to pay for construction-related problems.
"We didn't create these problems, and this isn't simple wear and tear," she said. "What about the contractor? We are the people who can afford this the least. We're the low-hanging fruit that they're picking and it's just not fair."
A spokesperson for Mercy told KING 5, "We want to work with [tenants]. We froze rents for two years during the pandemic, but we aren't in a financial position to continue to do that." The spokesperson added, "The rents are governed by the Washington State Housing Commission, and we remain below their caps by 13% even after our upcoming rent increase."
Residents told KING 5 Mercy has offered help through various agencies to assist with electric bills, but those savings don't come close to making up for the $67 monthly rent increase.
At 69 years old and suffering from heart problems, Davidson can't help but worry about what her future holds.
"I have no idea where I would go," she said. "I really thought when I moved into this building that it would be my home until the bitter end. Now, I'm not so sure about that."