Betty Butterworth has lived in Manhattan Beach for 28 years. Her husband, Bill, built their home nearly 40 years ago when bean fields and chicken ranches covered much of what is now an affluent city.
The Butterworths, like their neighborhood, are growing old. Bill, 67, works part time as a carpenter, but he can't do the heavy lifting he used to. Betty, 64, says she hasn't been feeling well, and she is concerned about her husband's health, too.
"If anything should happen to Bill, I couldn't take care of the house," she said. "If we were to move, we would have to go inland to get property we could afford. But our friends are here. You don't know anybody when you move to a new area."
The Butterworths, and thousands of other elderly residents in the South Bay, are wondering where they will spend their final years. And to their horror, many are discovering that the communities where they built their homes, raised their families and invested their time and energy have little to offer them.
Elderly residents from the South Bay's affluent beach cities to its working-class, harbor-front neighborhoods are being priced out of the housing market in their cities, or in some cases, have no choice but to live in crime-ridden neighborhoods where they fear for their lives.
And as the area, like the entire nation, grows older in the next few years, the housing squeeze is expected to get worse before it gets better--despite hard-fought victories in numerous cities to provide housing for their elderly.
In exclusive areas like Manhattan Beach and the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where real estate values have increased tenfold and more in the past two decades, many elderly residents of low or moderate means are looking to other cities to provide housing. These senior citizens, many of whom have rented homes or no longer can bear the burden of owning a house, are finding that they cannot afford to move within their own cities--even with the cash they get from selling their property.
Several efforts to build apartments with affordable rents for seniors in Manhattan Beach have failed, in large part because of the high cost of land and community resistance to government subsidies. Similar constraints have led officials in Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills Estates and Rolling Hills to give federal community block grant funds to neighboring Lomita in the hope that elderly residents will take advantage of subsidized senior projects in that city, which is known for its efforts to accommodate the elderly.
"One of the biggest problems I get across my desk is people whose apartment rents have escalated so high that there is no way they can stay in the area," said Marilyn Aldrich, project director of South Bay Senior Services, a nonprofit group in Torrance that links the elderly with community services in 10 South Bay cities, including the beach and peninsula cities. "We had one lady in here from Manhattan Beach who lives on $533 a month. Once you pay rent, that doesn't leave anything for clothes, transportation or the daily newspaper."
The gray flight from the South Bay, Aldrich and other people who work with the elderly say, is robbing the area of an entire generation of seniors who worked hard to build their communities and now "aren't being invited to the party," as one senior activist put it.
The move from familiar surroundings--even if it means moving to another community within the South Bay--can also be traumatic and depressing for some elderly residents, social workers who assist the elderly say. Many never recuperate.
"These people aren't corn," said Reinhold H. Klein, a consultant in Gardena who has assisted nonprofit groups with dozens of senior and other subsidized housing projects in the Los Angeles area since 1958. "You can't take them out in the country and plant them. They are people, and they will bear up emotionally, physically and in every other way in familiar surroundings with their family and friends."
In less affluent communities, such as Inglewood, Carson, Gardena and San Pedro, the outlook for elderly residents is not much better. Officials in those areas have cooperated with government agencies and private foundations in building hundreds of federally subsidized apartments for senior citizens with low or moderate incomes. Even so, thousands of needy elderly residents have been turned away or, when lucky, placed on waiting lists--some for as long as five years.
At South Park Manor, a 126-unit federally subsidized complex that opened last December in Gardena, 350 people are on the waiting list, and the project is no longer accepting applications. To the south in Harbor City, more than 350 people applied for 100 openings when the federally subsidized Vista Lee Rosa complex opened 16 months ago.
"We probably get five calls a day right now" from interested people, said Judy Ruud, who works at South Park Manor.