When she gives a tour of her west Napa house, it’s obvious that Cheryl Adams loves her home.
The interior is neat and tidy. Comfy couches and chairs fill the living room. A Bible is placed front and center on a coffee table. Canning jars sit waiting to be filled with vegetables from her garden plot. A scented candle flickers near a bookcase. Scenic portraits done in the Bob Ross painting style hang on the walls.
However, the 1950s-era dwelling has certainly seen better days.
“The seams are coming apart,” Adams said. If there’s another earthquake, “I’m afraid my house is going to fall apart.”
After years of delayed maintenance and two earthquakes, there are cracks and gaps on walls and ceilings. A number of doors and windows don’t shut all the way. The dishwasher and clothes dryer don’t work. Some floor surfaces are uneven. The bathroom needs updating. The walls need repairs and a new coat of paint.
Adams, 67, co-owns the home with her son, who is 37. But just how much longer they’ll be able to remain there is a big question.
“Even with two incomes, it doesn’t work,” said Adams, a senior who lives on Social Security and is barely getting by.
“I have no savings. We don’t have the money” to maintain the house, she said.
“It’s a story we hear all the time,” said Leanne Martinsen, the executive director of the Area Agency on Aging. “A lot of the calls we get are from people who are having trouble making ends meet.”
It’s difficult enough for anyone to find affordable housing in Napa, let alone for those on a fixed income, like most seniors, Martinsen said.
According to her research, in Napa County there are about 2,400 elder households with incomes less than $20,000 and 3,300 elder households with incomes less than $25,000 per year. Based on those numbers, “they couldn’t afford to rent in Napa,” she said.
“Our houses are the gold mines for us in Napa,” said Napa senior advocate Yvonne Baginski. “Nobody wants to sell their house or take a reverse mortgage.”
However, “Many seniors have deferred maintenance on their homes,” said Baginski. Once they stop working, keeping the home in good repair can become a problem, she said.
Life hasn’t been easy for Adams. She and her husband were forced to sell their former home in Circle Oaks after a flood damaged the property.
In 2000, they bought their current home, a single-story, low-sloped roof bungalow, located on a court off of Solano Avenue. They counted on income from Adams, her husband and her son to make the payments.
Then her husband got sick and lost his job. He passed away in 2009.
Her son was also laid off at one point but today works for a tree service company.
Adams worked as a child care provider and in an attorney’s office for a time, but an accident and back injury left her disabled. She filed for bankruptcy protection.
During the recession, she fell behind on her mortgage payments but was able to refinance through the Keep Your Home California program. Adams said her church has helped her with some problems, but there’s only so much it can provide, she said.
After the earthquake, she received less than $2,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The money was used for daily living expenses, she said.
Today, she’s hoping to refinance the house again to bring down her mortgage payment.
Adams lives frugally. She’s cut her grocery bill by about half. She doesn’t take vacations. A trip out is a $6 movie on senior citizen day. She brings her own water and does not buy popcorn.
A donated older model van is her transportation. “I haven’t owned a new car since 1967,” she said.
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There is no cable TV, earthquake or life insurance. Adams pays as much of her utility bills as she can and then tries to catch up.
“Thanks God I have a car that still runs.”
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, said Adams. “My intention was to be retired with my husband. We’d be able to do things.”
When asked if she had applied for post-earthquake help from the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund, Adams said she hadn’t heard of it. She doesn’t get the newspaper, she said.
“I thought FEMA was all I could do.”
Terence P. Mulligan, president of the Napa Valley Community Foundation, said that federal rules for how charitable resources are to be spent after a disaster – and the two years that have passed since the August 2014 earthquake – preclude the Foundation from distributing additional Relief Fund dollars to residents who may still be struggling to recover.
“Our goal has always been to help as many qualified residents as possible, knowing that charitable dollars alone could never make everyone whole. We know that some people haven’t been able to get all the support they may need, and truly regret we can’t do more at this time,” he added. One earthquake recovery group did fix one window in Adams’ home, but other windows remain non-functioning.Adams said she has considered other housing options, but she can’t afford a senior community such as the Springs of Napa. Her Social Security totals less than $2,000 per month. One low-income senior housing center declined her application due to her bankruptcy, she said.When asked if she considered selling her home and moving to an area with a lower cost of living, Adams demurred.
“I want a home,” she said. “This is for my family.” She has two children, six grandkids and three great grandkids. She has siblings but her extended family isn’t able to support her.
“My husband and I worked really hard for this place,” she said. “I have good neighbors,” she said. “I’m comfortable here.”
Adams said she hadn’t thought of using a food bank to reduce her expenses. “I don’t want to take food from people that have nothing.”
“I’ve had a lot of faith,” Adams said. “I’m content with my family and church,” she said. “It could be lot worse.”
Baginski said it’s very common to find a parent holding onto a home they can no longer take care of in order to preserve a potential inheritance for a child.
“It’s up to that person to make a decision whether they are going to spend their own money or leave it to their children.”
Baginski recommended that Adams consider selling the house.
With the equity, she might be able to live in an apartment or another community. In Solano County, apartments are less. “If she stayed in Napa, she could go into a home- sharing program.”
In 2015, Napa Valley Community Housing launched the free Home Sharing Match-Up Program.
The local nonprofit will facilitate safe home shares for homeowners with extra space in their home with renters who need an affordable place to live in Napa County.
To date, the program has matched 12 tenants with rooms. There are currently seven landlords that have a room for rent, said Executive Director Kathleen Dreessen.
Those prices range from $700 and $900 a month, Dreessen said. But some homeowners will accept light housekeeping and help with errands as part of the rent.
All tenants undergo a comprehensive background check, interview and other processes. There is no cost to either the homeowner or renter.
Resources for people like Adams are slim, said Martinsen of the Area Agency on Aging. “If she had a room to rent that might help her.” But ultimately, “there aren’t a lot of resources out there.”
The planning needs to start earlier, Martinsen said. “People need to think about where they are going to be 20 years from now” and how they are going to live.
“The senior population is going to be increasing exponentially. Government funded programs have not been keeping up. It’s crunch time.”