After GBH News published the story of Judith, a 72-year-old woman who spent a year living in her car after she lost her home in a no-fault eviction, and Susan Seriam, a 56-year-old who has been living in shelters since being forced out of her apartment, questions from listeners and readers began pouring in. Why are more older women at risk for losing their homes? Why didn’t the women in the article move in with family members? What can be done to prevent this?

GBH News reporter Liz Neisloss spoke to Morning Edition co-hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel about those women's stories, and how they reflect broader trends. She noted that Judith read some of GBH’s Priced Out series about the fight for affordable housing in Massachusetts and emailed GBH to tell her story. If you want to share your experience with the housing struggle in Massachusetts, you can reach us using the form here.

The risk of homelessness for older adults begins much earlier in life

“The high cost of housing hits a lot of people, especially those who are on fixed incomes,” Neisloss said. “But for many women, in particular women of color — who tend to be renters, who are more typically single in older age — the hold on housing is especially tenuous as they age.”

It starts with lower pay and pay inequity during their working years; time spent caregiving, for children or other family members, can also contribute to lower monetary earnings. And for people who depend on a spouse or partner for support while they work as caregivers, the death of a partner (or a divorce or separation) can be financially dangerous.

“We celebrate the fact that women live longer than men, or tend to,” Neisloss said. “But what it means is: if they were dependent on a double income to be able to pay for housing, or on a spouse or partner's income, that's no longer there. And so they have to figure it out.”

Renters and people of color are usually at increased risk

Susan Seriam, a Black woman, had been renting a studio apartment in Abington for $650 a month. When her landlord died, the home was sold, and the new owners pushed her out.

“It's not an unusual story,” Neisloss said. “She was given two months to find a new place to live. She was on a fixed income. She was doing hourly work. She was on disability. In two months, heading out into the market, there is no way that you can find housing. So she is living in a shelter.”

Susan is now on a waiting list for affordable housing, willing to go anywhere in the state. Three months in, she is still waiting.

People of color like Susan have historically been kept out of opportunities to buy homes and build equity. And as people age, renters are more at the mercy of market trends and have less control over whether they can stay in their homes.

Family members often want to help — but it doesn’t always work out

Neisloss said it’s the question she’s gotten most since the article was published: Why couldn’t Susan and Judith move in with family members?

It’s not so simple, she said.

“Both Susan and Judith, who are from vastly different backgrounds, expressed this to me: They didn't want to be a burden. They didn't want to move in,” Neisloss said. “Judith has a daughter and son-in-law nearby she could have stayed with — and she did when she had COVID. But they were in a small one-bedroom and she felt she was derailing their lives. Susan said, 'It's not a thing to me.' She said, 'I want my own. I don't want to be a burden to anyone.' Both of them expressed the idea that they want their own lives.”

Policy solutions are possible

Along with the urgent need for affordable housing, communities can do more to prevent older women from losing their homes in the first place.

“There are a lot of potential policy solutions from dealing with pay equity, to Social Security credits for childcare, things like that,” Neisloss said. “But right now the need is really much more urgent than policy solutions.”