Nancy Rogerson has spent each day over the past three weeks scouring ads in the newspaper, making calls and driving around Tuolumne County in search of a permanent place to live with her two granddaughters, ages 4 and 9, and their three dogs.
The 66-year-old said most low-income apartments tell her there are no openings and don’t expect one to be available for at least a year, while the monthly rent at many others is too high for her fixed income.
“You get turned away so many times it just gets frustrating,” Rogerson lamented in her room at Sonora Gold Lodge on Stockton Road, where several donors paid for the family to stay through Monday after learning they had been living in their pickup for several days earlier this month.
Rogerson’s struggle is emblematic of what many others in the county are facing due to a shortage of affordable housing.
While there’s plenty of funding available through the state and federal government to help house people who are in need like Rogerson, people who work for agencies that offer such programs say their clients can wait for up to year before a place becomes available.
For example, Rogerson checked in again with two Sonora-area apartment complexes where she has submitted applications over the past year only to find out she’s No. 62 on the waiting list for one and No. 71 on the other.
“They said the only way I would get a place is if someone passed away,” she said.
Rogerson checked the classified section of The Union Democrat on Thursday and pointed out an ad for apartments that were only for senior citizens.
The only other place that had space available listed the monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment at $845 and $900 for a two-bedroom apartment, far outside the $910 in Supplemental Security Income and $627 in cash aid that Rogerson receives each month.
Another private landlord Rogerson checked with was offering a studio apartment in the Tuttletown area for $895 a month, in addition to an $895 deposit.
“I can’t be picky, but I also have to realize that I gotta do this, and they (her granddaughters) still need clothes, school books and all of that stuff,” she said.
Rogerson and her granddaughters were living with their three dogs at the Sonora Gold Lodge for nearly a year thanks largely to David Weseman, who was also staying at the hotel while looking for permanent place and covered their $630 per week room for several months.
They slept in their pickup behind Petsmart on Sanguinetti Road for five nights earlier this month after Weseman could no longer afford to pay.
There was an outpouring of support for Rogerson after a story about her plight was published in The Union Democrat on Feb. 13.
Several donors came together to cover the cost of a room for the family at the Sonora Gold Lodge for an additional three weeks, while others donated food, toiletries and more than $200 cash.
Though several people have offered temporary shelter for Rogerson and her granddaughters in the event they end up back on the streets, none have yet offered a permanent place.
Tamara Dockstader, housing resources director for the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency, said many people in the county are being diligent about searching for a place to live but running into the same roadblocks as Rogerson.
“It’s not unusual for something to become available in the morning and be gone that afternoon, especially in that right price point,” Dockstader said.
The agency receives more than $230,000 each year through the federal Community Development Block Grant program to run a housing stabilization program that can help cover the cost of the deposit and first month’s rent for low-income residents who qualify.
Eva Questo, housing resources coordinator for ATCAA, said she has 79 clients on her housing search list that she sends weekly emails with links and numbers of places to check for openings.
Questo said one of her clients is a 67-year-old disabled woman who recently moved into a low-income apartment after 11 months of helping her search.
“That was from me calling places every two weeks, fighting and begging favors,” she said. “We can’t do that for every person. We try our best, but it doesn’t always work.”
The agency’s program can’t help cover costs above fair-market rent as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is $654 for a studio, $746 for a one bedroom, $957 for a two bedroom, $1,315 for a three bedroom, and $1,496 for a four bedroom.
Questo said she’s seen some places charging $925 a month to rent a one bedroom apartment.
There are 14 low-income housing complexes throughout the county, 10 of which are owned by three different companies. Questo said some tell her they have a waiting list of three or more years for a unit.
“We’re not building new units in the county, so you’re waiting for someone to get evicted or die,” she said.
Since 2012, four building permits were issued by the county for multi-family housing. An average of 42 permits were issued each year between 2012 and 2016 for single-family units.
Another problem is scam artists trying to take advantage of people who are desperate to find housing.
Questo said they verify the landlords of every property that houses one of their clients through public records at the Tuolumne County Assessor’s Office and sometimes find out the person isn’t actually the owner.
“A lot of times we find out people are trying to sublet, which is illegal,” she said. “The people who are most desperate to find housing this happens to the most.”
Sometimes they also see people advertising places for rent on Craigslist and asking for deposits up front while using pictures taken from real-estate websites, at which point Questo notifies the company.
County leaders have acknowledged the need for more affordable housing and made it one of their top priorities in recent years.
The county has received $75,000 from the state to prepare a grant application for the state’s new $2 billion No Place Like Home program, which is specifically targeted to support the development of housing for people who are mentally ill and homeless.
Documents from the county’s Housing Policy Committee stated that officials have been working with the Stanislaus County Housing Authority, which administers the regional Section 8 program, to identify potential locations for such a project.
According to the documents, officials have also been in talks with a Stockton-based group called Visionary Home Builders of California to stoke their interest in a larger affordable housing project that would have some units reserved for clients who qualify for the No Place Like Home program.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.