Sue’s Story: An Unexpected Retirement
At the end of a very successful career in property management, Sue decided to give back by spending her final years of employment working for an affordable housing rental company. When money was tight for tenants, she often referred them to Sister Carmen Community Center (SCCC) for the food bank, thrift store, or financial assistance. She never imagined that one day she might need any of these resources herself. That was, until she retired.
“It was a shock,” Sue says of receiving her first Social Security check. “It was a third of what I used to make.” She even considered going back to work at age 69, but she was the only one available to care for her ailing mother at that time.
Life had not gone according to plan. There were divorces and other family hardships. Sue helped raise her grandchildren because her son was a single father. She had to sell her townhome and drain her 401k to support other family members. First, her mother until she passed away in her nineties, and then her son who battled addiction for years before being involved in a catastrophic motorcycle accident that left him with a mountain of medical debt. The accident sobered him up, but left him disabled.
Unable to care for himself, Sue’s son moved in with her. Then her grandson followed after a break-up that left him homeless. Since space was tight in the two-bedroom, one-bath house, Sue’s granddaughter and her husband, who are doing well financially, bought a used RV for Sue’s grandson to live in on the property.
Today, at age 77, Sue’s fixed income is $2,000 per month. When she first rented the 100-year-old, 1,000 square-foot home on a plot of land in rural Erie nine years ago, she could make ends meet on her own. But since then, her rent has gone up $650 per month to $1,950, and it’s increasing another $100 this summer.
Sue offered to sign a 10-year lease if her landlord would let her stay at the current rent, but he refused. She started looking for a new home to rent, preferably one with enough land for the RV, in more affordable Brighton, but had no luck. Then COVID-19 hit, and the government implemented the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which made it possible for Sue to stay in the home she loved… at least a little while longer.
ERAP brought some relief and stability to the family. It paid six months of rent in total. That assistance enabled Sue to save her Social Security income and extend the amount of time she could manage rent. It also allowed her to build a savings safety net that helped with paying off some of her son’s medical bills and staying current on her utility and trash bills. But now ERAP has ended. Sue received her final payment two months ago, so her search for a more affordable property continues. She hopes she doesn’t have to move too far away from the area she’s called home for 30 years.
“I hang on to what I have and fix everything on my own (appliances, water heater, etc.) because three of us are living here for what I’m paying, and there’s enough room for all of us,” she explains. Sue also drives a 23-year-old truck.
If not for her extreme frugality and resourcefulness, and the help of her family, Sue would not be able to meet her monthly expenses. Sometimes, even all of that is not enough. That’s when she turns to Sister Carmen.
SCCC fills in the gaps for Sue and people like her who make too much money to qualify for government assistance, like affordable housing or SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Allowance Program), but not enough to really survive in today’s economy. Over the years, Sister Carmen has provided Sue with resources to stay afloat. She shops our food bank twice a month and the Colorado Pet Pantry, which visits SCCC monthly, every other month to feed her beloved rescue dog, Bambi. “I never take more than I need,” Sue says.
Our Advocates have also helped her connect with energy benefits like the Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) and Energy Outreach Colorado. We’ve even helped with her rent over the years when her Social Security income hasn’t kept pace with the cost of housing. “Rent and utilities keep going up, and it’s hitting seniors harder than anybody,” says Sue. “We’re all struggling.”
After doing all the right things her whole life—working hard, saving money, buying a home, and taking care of her family—it would make sense for Sue to be bitter about struggling in retirement, but she remains positive and upbeat.
“I really believe if you keep laughing and smiling, you’ll make it through. I find ways to be happy because this is it for me. Enjoy life! We don’t get a second chance. No one has a perfect life. We all have our troubles. We all cry. We all ask God why,” says Sue.
She feels fortunate to have supportive family nearby and a son who’s clean and sober again. She saw people with far less when she worked in low-income housing. While there are no exotic travel plans for this retiree, she finds joy in simple pleasures: gardening, sewing, thrift store shopping, and spending time with family, friends, and pets.
“I’ve had a good life,” Sue says. “I still have a good life.”