SCES Housing Specialist Discusses Rising Displacement Woes

By Kristin Bell

Consider the toll moving takes on someone. Now apply that to an older adult or person with disabilities, living on a low fixed income. Unfortunately, displacement is a very real issue facing many who contact Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) for help.

This trend was recently outlined in a Metropolitan Planning Council report, Managing Change in Somerville: The Dimensions of Displacement, which found that residential rent hikes near new transit stations pose the greatest risk of displacement– and that nearly one-twelfth of the city’s designated affordable housing units are at risk of losing their affordability restrictions by 2020.

SCES clients are feeling the effects of displacement. Older adults at risk of eviction, or in the process of being evicted, are often referred to our Protective Services (PS) program for assistance. PS case workers advocate for eligible clients, often by petitioning for more time to secure alternative housing. In some circumstances they can also file a request for a Reasonable Accommodation [a change in the rules, policies or procedures, or a physical modification made to a home to accommodate a disability].

Kristin Bell is a Housing Specialist at the Aging Information Center at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES)

We’re also seeing a rise in “no-fault evictions,” which are often the result of an older adult being pushed out due to development projects or increasing rents. They’ve done nothing wrong, but their plans for aging-in-place are being disrupted, and it’s often essential for them to stay within Somerville or Cambridge because their healthcare, support networks and family are here.

So what are the housing options for displaced older adults?

SCES has responded to this uptick in housing-related referrals by adding a Housing Specialist, who can provide clients with an overview of affordable housing and assisted living options.

But many challenges remain. Our clients often live on a fixed income- often only a Social Security check- and that means even “low” and “moderately” priced options within condominiums or assisted livings are out of their price range. Accessibility can also be an issue. Even if an older adult has a mobile Section 8 voucher and can look outside of affordable housing complexes, a second floor walkup is not a viable option when using a walker or wheel chair.

SCES has also been working with the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) to help. SCES identifies clients in urgent need of affordable housing and works with CHA to provide access at the Putnam School Apartments.  An apartment at the Miller’s River Apartments is also available for short-term shelter, and SCES hopes to expand its supportive housing program in the future.

SCES is working diligently to advocate for greater access to affordable and accessible housing. The Executive Office of Elder Affairs report that, between 2000 and 2020, the 65+ population is projected to rise 47.8% in Cambridge. Solutions are needed to prepare for demographic shift.

Many of those now facing displacement have spent their whole lives helping to build our communities. In the short term, we’re dedicated to helping older adults access whatever resources are available to face this challenge. Long-term, we’re hoping that our nation, state and community will work together to meet this pressing need.

Kristin Bell is a Housing Specialist at the Aging Information Center at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES), a private, non-profit agency dedicated to improving the quality of life and maintaining the dignity and independence of older people in Somerville and Cambridge. For more information about SCES, visit or follow SCES on Facebook and Twitter.