When seniors are priced out, they end up warehoused on Aurora | KUOW News and Information

When seniors are priced out, they end up warehoused on Aurora

May 20, 2018

Victoria Marshall was born in 1945, and she’s full of stories. She can talk about the four years she was homeless, about raising kids, or about her deep knowledge of animals, which she sometimes shares with people at the zoo.


Marshall used to live on Capitol Hill, right in the heart of Seattle. But now she lives on the far northern edge of the city. “Seniors are being pushed away from daily life," said Marshall. "So if someone wants wisdom from old people, they’re not gonna get it. Because we’re out here, all alone, isolated from the community.”

Read: What the Seattle City Council learned just two weeks before the head tax vote

It’s harder for seniors to stay in their homes in Seattle than it is in many other parts of the country. Many seniors are being forced out by rising rents and property taxes.

A lot of seniors end up in large apartment buildings along the old highway 99. Marshall described her neighborhood just off Aurora Avenue North as a kind of senior ghetto.

“We have to make an extra effort, on our parts, to go be part of a community," she said. "And sometimes, that’s a problem. Because we’re not always well, we don’t always have money to travel, or the time to do so. I don’t know. It just feels really isolated.”

If someone wants wisdom from old people, they’re not gonna get it. Because we’re out here, all alone, isolated from the community.

Not everyone in Marshall's neighborhood feels so alone. But many do, and awareness of the problem is growing. That’s why SHAG, a senior housing development group, hired Mohammed Egal as a Resident Services Coordinator. His job is to help seniors connect to their communities.

Read: 'We live in a jewel of a place that comes with wild risks'

“The more active you stay, the more engaged you stay, the more you enjoy your life,” Egal said.

SHAG’s newest development project is in Tukwila. It’s right down the street from Foster High School, one of the most diverse high schools in the state. Foster has a large immigrant population, and many students are still learning to speak and read in English. 

Mohammed Egal leans against a sculpture near Tukwila's new library, across the street from SHAG's new senior housing.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Every day after school, many of these students pass by the senior housing. “They usually walk to the library to do their homework. And that’s our building, across the street,” said Egal, pointing at the buildings less than 400 feet away.

The development's location will allow seniors to mentor students at the high school. “And mentoring is everything," said Egal. "Someone is sharing with you their lifetime of experience while you are 16 and 17.” 

Egal should know, too. As a Somali American, he had a mentor who helped him with his English when he was younger.

SHAG has always tried to connect its seniors with activities. But their Tukwila apartments are located right in the middle of a community that could benefit from the time and wisdom that these seniors have to share.

Mentoring is everything. Someone is sharing with you their lifetime of experience while you are sixteen and seventeen.

Read: When wearing fragrance at work, use common scents

I attended a luncheon for future residents of the new senior apartments going up in Tukwila.

That’s where I met Joyce Fabre. “Where I did live, it was too much money,” Fabre told me. But it wasn’t just the money. Life changes also drove her here. “I raised a grandchild, and when he left, I said, ‘Oh, no. Now I’m all by myself.’” 

Now, she's optimistic about her future. Fabre has a lifetime of experience, and she plans to make use of it in Tukwila. “I taught school for a while," said Fabre, who plans to volunteer in the schools. "Anything I can do to help the community.”

Future residents of SHAG's new building in Tukwila listen to a presentation in a community room near the brand new library building.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

These community-building efforts may work out well for Tukwila. But there’s a cost to the city of Seattle if it continues to lose its seniors.

Victoria Marshall, who has wisdom to share with the kids of Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Victoria Marshall offered this story as an illustration: “You might have noticed I’m not wearing my dentures," she said. "I got them recently, I don't like wearing them. I can't stand them."

One day, at the zoo, a kid looked at her and said, “‘No teeth!’"

“And I went, ‘yeah,’ and that was the end of it. But," she continued, "Kids don’t get to see old, sick, toothless adults. The only toothless people they get to see are other kids! They don’t know anything about what it’s like to get old. And that’s part of what you need to learn when you’re growing up.”