Every day, Sandi Bachom would call the Marshal’s office and ask: Is the eviction scheduled today?
“It was a terrible thing—because you didn’t know when it was going to happen,” she says.
Bachom, 70, a filmmaker and writer, says she used to make a lot of money, enough to buy clothes from Prada and a $ 1.6 million apartment in Gramercy. Today, however, she’s homeless, living on Social Security and food stamps, and sleeping on a friend’s couch.
She says her troubles began when the breakdown of her marriage and the loss of her job forced her to move to a more affordable apartment in Peter Cooper Village. She says she was trying to establish a freelance career when she was hit by a car in September 2009, couldn’t walk or work for six months and fell behind on her rent. In 2012, two marshals knocked on her door.
“For the first time in my life I didn’t have a home,” says Bachom. “I was homeless.”
The New York City Independent Budget Office, says that 7 percent of tenants facing eviction are seniors age 62 or over. Peter Cooper Village, where Bachom lived, is part of Manhattan’s Community District Six, home to 21,443 seniors 65 or older, almost 15 percent of the district’s population, according to the 2010-2012 American Community Survey. The number of elderly in the neighborhood has increased 10 percent over the last decade and senior evictions are an increasingly common concern that is often discussed at local Community Board Meetings.
“It’s obviously a big concern,” says Rajesh Nayar, chair of the Community Board 6 Housing and Homelessness Committee. He explains that there are many reasons for senior evictions, but a primary one is that federal rent subsidy programs have been cut and the district has lost some of its rent stabilized apartments.
“When we talk about seniors we think about the fact that many of them are on fixed income so most of them don’t have the means to pay extra charges on rent,” he says. “Obviously, we don’t want to see our seniors leave, especially if they’ve lived in the district for a long time. ”
Many of the seniors who are evicted end up homeless, like Bachom. But they don’t go to shelters, says Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy, for Council of Senior Centers and Services, an organization of more than 200 senior service agencies that serve over 300,000 seniors throughout New York.
“Many of them end up on somebody’s couch,” she says. “Even seniors in rent-regulated apartments are still financially on a cliff of affordability. When you get older your income doesn’t keep up with the cost of your every day needs, and it means that many seniors have to choose between rent, food and medication.”
Bachom says if it could happen to her it can happen to anyone. She has documented her own experience with a video camera, and she says she wants to tell her story now because she thinks too many people are ashamed of being poor.
“Nobody wants to be old and alone and homeless,” she says. “There is such a shame around poverty and poor people, and I think many people live in shame and anonymity, and their pride keeps them from asking for help.”
She says she feels that shame when she goes to the church for a $2 hot meal or when she uses her food stamps at the super market.
“It’s humiliating,” she says. “I get emotional when I think about the shame I feel for being in that situation. Asking for help was really hard for me, but there are ways to get helped. I want to talk about my experience because I thought I wouldn’t survive it, but I did, and I want others in my situation to know that.”
Today she is working on a documentary about the mayor’s plan to ban the horse carriages in Central Park and is planning on having her own place to live again someday.
“I do what I love, and I’d like to have my own place,” she says. “I really see this as a temporary situation. I’m relentless.”