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Rising rents are pushing Seattle seniors into poverty

In just over 20 years from now, it's expected that one in four adults in King County will be 60 or older.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says the city needs to do more to address the issues faced by this growing population.

And one of the biggest challenges is affordability.

Glenn Cofer, 68, is a retired merchant seaman and bus driver. He's on a fixed income and at the end of each month, after paying the rent, he doesn’t have a lot left over. If rents keep going up, Cofer doesn’t know what he’ll do.

"It's basically, you've got to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Cofer said. He’s worried that he may have to spend less on food or cut down on travel costs to keep the rent paid.

Murray says a lot of seniors in Seattle are in the same situation as Cofer.

"The challenges are clear: 63 percent of older renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. That basically puts those seniors in poverty," Murray said.

Murray is teaming up with King County to try to ease the burden for seniors.

There are two programs that can help cut down costs: the utility discounts program and a property tax exemption program.

Right now, only a fraction of eligible seniors are enrolled in these programs. The city and county aim to double enrollment within the next year through streamlined applications and outreach.

Jeffrey Powell said these programs sound good but they don’t really apply to him. He’s homeless and he needs to nail down a steady income before he can start to worry about enrolling in utility discounts or tax exemptions.

“I’m 62, so the chances of getting a nice job probably are not as good as if I was 22,” Powell said.

When it comes to the city’s new age-friendly plan, Powell said he’s not really sure if it will help him. “As far as how it relates to my personal situation, I'm still waiting."

Terry Kauzlarich is also a homeless senior. But he feels optimistic. He said he believes the mayor is on the right track.

“I believe the mayor is concerned about the homeless and especially the seniors,” Kauzlarich said.

Officials are committing $200,000 this year to create new programs, transportation options and online resources for seniors.

"To make sure that we fund those centers that make sure that seniors aren't isolated, to fund programs that are innovative for seniors, additional funds for transportation option, and to fund technology so that seniors can access it and that it meets the needs of seniors,” Murray said.

Murray said the city’s sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure will also be assessed.

"Whether we're designing our pedestrian master plan, or we're designing programs with our bus services at King County, we need to be sure that we design those so that they work for all ages," he said.

Year started with KUOW: 2015