This article has been condensed to focus on the Hero’s Bridge veteran featured. To read the full article, visit the Fauquier Times.

People who are financially secure and people who are financially strained both consider housing central to their well-being.

But beyond that baseline, their experiences with house and home diverge radically. The affluent find security in a home, while low-income workers encounter insecurity.

For well-off families, a house functions as an address and an investment, one likely to appreciate if owners can ride out the economic cycles. For lower-income families – forever-renters or owners chronically worried about foreclosure – housing is a vulnerability, a provisional arrangement poised to unravel as circumstances shift.

The housing budget for lower-income renters can claim as much as 50% of their  income, so that other priorities such as health, nutrition and education are crowded out.

Scanning the last four decades in Piedmont Virginia, the Housing Assistance Council, a national nonprofit that supports affordable housing in rural areas, found a quadrupling in the number of Culpeper and Fauquier renters paying more than 30% of their income for housing, which is the generally accepted threshold for being cost-burdened. In Rappahannock, the number of cost-burdened renters tripled.

When a cyclone of bad luck comes via an illness, an injury, a layoff or a change of landlord, there are few shock absorbers to stave off a continuing spiral downward. Mortgage or rent payments falter, eviction notices follow and home mutates into a noisy shelter or a car tucked into a Walmart parking lot. Mental and physical health deteriorate, job performance suffers and families and social structures fray.

Tidbits of good luck and acts of kindness sporadically relieve the chronic strain of a real estate market that seems stacked against the young, the old and those stranded in lower-paid livelihoods. Organizations like Community Touch in Bealeton, Hero’s Bridge in Warrenton, and the Benevolent Fund in Washington hear about approaching crises, and can help avert evictions or secure transitional housing when homelessness becomes an immediate threat.

Meanwhile, in state after state, including Virginia, governors and lawmakers are sounding alarms about the short supply and surging prices of homes. In Charlottesville last month, more than a thousand protestors of all ages gathered to demand more action and more investment in affordable housing. Earlier in the month, the Biden White House weighed in, recognizing that despite easing inflation and dropping unemployment, the housing squeeze is turning Americans into pessimists, convinced they’re falling behind.

 Jerry Clatterbuck
Culpeper County: Destabilized by a landlord shift

Jerry Clatterbuck’s life was never easy. He weathered a hardscrabble childhood on a farm 15 miles from Culpeper. He endured a stressful and frightening military tour in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, when the Viet Cong and the North Vietnam Army launched a major offensive against South Vietnam and its U.S. allies. His marriage ended in divorce in 1990 and he worked at a string of disconnected jobs that mostly covered basic expenses but left no savings for old age.

For 14 years, he enjoyed the comfort of a basement apartment in a Culpeper house, for the bargain rent of $500, under a sublease with friendly renters of the entire house.

A chain reaction was ignited when the owner of the house, elderly herself, broke her hip and needed to sell the house to finance her own care and lodging. The new owners planned renovations, followed by an increase in rents that put the location well beyond Clatterbuck’s budget. “I was between a rock and a hard place,” the 73-year-old veteran said.

Dependent on a $1,200 monthly check from Social Security, he found that at current levels, rent would consume everything, leaving little for food and other necessities. One of his two sons had explored building a new home in Madison, with space for his father, but he deemed interest rates too high to proceed with the project.

With eviction weeks away, and no plan for housing in sight, Clatterbuck was connected with Hero’s Bridge, a Warrenton nonprofit that helps elderly veterans. The organization secured a place in a former motel that offers “extended stay” arrangements. The cost is still above Clatterbuck’s budget, but Hero’s Bridge covers part of each month’s rent. It has also set up meal deliveries from Mom’s Meals, a service for needy residents.

Hero’s Bridge is pushing to establish a village in Warrenton, with small, accessible homes for financially strained elderly veterans. A staffer with the organization says Clatterbuck would be the ideal resident for the project. At this time though, zoning changes and other approvals for the village are still pending.

Meanwhile, volunteers delivered a microwave plus a comfortable chair and side table to the former motel where Clatterbuck lives. He has a spacious bathroom and a television. He likes to watch decades-old movies and episodes from TV westerns such as “Gunsmoke” and “Wagon Train.” Visits arranged by Hero’s Bridge brighten days that would otherwise pass without company or conversation.

Read the full article.