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Living Derangements

Spiritual Smart Aleck

The new property tax assessments for 2018 arrived in the mail. You could hear the howls of pain and rage all over the island. Some of those howls were mine.

The assessed value for my house is going up to what I had speculated would be a reasonable asking price should I decide to sell. I wanted to call the county and ask, “Are you sure you were looking at my house when you set this value?” Which is more polite than screaming, “Are you people out of your #$&!%&@ $&^ @%^$ minds?”

I went online and looked up Vashon Island real estate listings and was boggled to find out what land and houses are going for on Vashon these days. Suddenly my assessment didn’t seem so out of line. Clearly, I have not been paying attention. But really?

The new assessments were the jumping off point for a conversation among a group of older people, mostly women, the other morning. We talked about how tough it is to keep a roof over our heads with the property taxes skyrocketing and our incomes remaining the same. We asked, if we can’t afford our property taxes this year, how will we be able to pay them next year?

I have heard and read about the poverty of older women for years, but now it has gone from theoretical to personal. Older women and men living in poverty are but one of the populations who feel the walls closing in as the national policy of siphoning all the money to the tiny part of the population that is already obscenely wealthy continues.

I have applied for the senior property tax exemption this year. I called the county assessor’s office to ask how that was going, and was told my application had been received, and there is a four-month backlog of processing of applications. When my application has been processed, I will hear about the decision by mail. Looking forward to that.

Meanwhile, the older women in this group got to talking about options for those of us who live alone and are on fixed incomes. What do we do? Sell our houses? Rent out our houses? Get a reverse mortgage? Take in roomers?

If we rent out or sell our houses, where do we live? Buy an RV and become snowbirds? Do we take up our adult children on their offers to come live with them? What if our adult children have not made those kind offers? What if we outlive the proceeds of house sales or reverse mortgages? What if we can’t afford to rent or buy anywhere else? Do we start looking for that quality cardboard box?

What struck me most about this conversation was that I’ve been agonizing for months over this dilemma – how do I pay the property taxes? How do I keep my house? What do I do if I can’t keep it? How do I live? What about the dog and the cat?

Now I find out that many other women my age are wondering the same things and wrestling with the same questions. Those of you who have already had these conversations and made these decisions are nodding your heads, aren’t you?
My older son and his sweetheart have told me I’d always have a home with them. That was good to know, but leaving my house, leaving the island, leaving my friends, leaving my singing partners, leaving my church, in fact, leaving everything familiar and dear after forty-five years? That is a wrenching thought, but it may come to that.

There were times after my husband Rick died when I felt like there was nothing more for me in this life, no purpose, no direction. Those were hard times. I stuck around, anyway, determined to see what kind of rollicking clusterfricks this new part of life had in store.

So. How to be old and alone and still alive, with declining health and probably losing my mind, too many bills and not enough money, in a country that is doing its best to kill off its most vulnerable citizens.

Well, I’m not bored, and I understand that as poverty goes, I am a rank amateur. I still have a house. I have a car. It is now an old car which I’m patching together with duct tape, but it gets me where I need to go, like the food bank. This is Vashon Island poor, comfortable poor. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I will, poor. I’ve led a privileged, wonderful life, and now it’s getting tight, poor.

Deep breath. Carry on.