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How Mary Butler found an affordable home in the Bay Area

Allen Temple Arms, East Oakland


Mary Butler is a person who "likes to keep very busy and independent."

She worked as a respiratory nurse for most of her adult life. After retiring in the early 2000s, she supported herself the way retirees are meant to: with a small pension and social security. She moved to Las Vegas for a while to take care of an ill sibling. When she moved back to Oakland, she couldn’t find a place to rent. Her retirement funds didn’t stack up.

With the rents in the Bay Area, she couldn’t find anything for less than $800 per month. She looked everywhere. Oakland, Berkeley, San Leandro, Richmond. The point was to be close to her family and church.

Eventually, Mary moved in with her daughter. She started applying for senior housing but found herself stuck on wait lists. To keep busy, she took a job as the cook at the church school her grandchildren attended, and she started volunteering at a women’s shelter.

Just as her daughters' home was becoming too crowded with growing children, Mary got lucky. After three years of searching, she was granted a spot in a senior living facility. Now, she’s been living at Allen Temple Arms in East Oakland for the last four years. She says she feels secure there.

"It’s like a family. You get to know the residents, the office staff the maintenance staff," she says. "But most of all, the rent is affordable."

Mary pays thirty percent of her fixed income to live at Allen Temple Arms.

"You know life is tough as it is," she says. "But you know if you have your own key to open your own door and relax and feel comfortable, that’s what matters."

Mary doesn’t worry about housing anymore. But her story is rare. Subsidized housing units make up only eight to nine percent of the total housing stock in Oakland. The number is similar in San Francisco. Everyone outside of these subsidized programs is trying to keep pace with a runaway housing market.

Liza got her start in radio with KALW's Audio Academy. Now, she is KALW's econmy reporter and a mentor for in the KALW Audio Academy.