In 1983, Gwen Williamson was a newly minted social work graduate. She moved from South Carolina to Arlington to work and live with disadvantaged children in an Arlington group home on South Quincy Street.
In the past 36 years she’s moved out of the county twice. First to Maryland, which didn’t suit her, and then to Germany until her 7-year marriage ended. Both times she returned, feeling that Arlington was where she truly wanted to be. She loves the parks and trails near her current home in Bluemont Park, and until five years ago relied solely on public transportation.
But never in all those years did Gwen buy a house.
“I had a professional job with a security clearance, but the salary was low,” she said. Gwen opted to rent a room with three housemates to save money. As a federal contractor she didn’t want to put her credit in jeopardy for fear of losing her security clearance.
But when her mother sold the family home in South Carolina and moved into a nursing center three years ago Gwen began to think about her own future, including retirement. She doesn’t want to retire to Florida—she loves the changing seasons—but as she began to look around Arlington she was shocked by how few options there were for people her age on the salary she was making.
“I stayed in the job too long,” Gwen said with resigned regret. “Finally I got up the nerve to say enough is enough.”
Gwen landed a new, higher-paying job and began to “play financial catch-up.” But she was in a middle-income bracket, which was too low to afford any of the luxury condos going up and too high to be considered for many of the affordable housing options in the county.
And then in March 2019, her contract ended and wasn’t renewed. Frustrated and a little fearful, she attended the Northern Virginia Housing Expo looking for direction. There she came across the Alliance for Housing Solutions and became a supporter of the Arlington For Everyone campaign, which promotes creating and maintaining housing options that are affordable for a variety of income levels.
“I’m not sure that housing options exist for those looking for a planned community geared toward Boomers,” Gwen said. “I may have to have a longer commute in order to meet my needs of aging in place.”
Gwen’s dream home is simple: A two-bedroom condo so her mother can live with her, or at least visit (the doorways of her current home are not wide enough to accommodate her mother’s wheelchair). She is still active, but knows that as she ages it won’t be practical to be running up and down stairs.
Because of the cost, Gwen isn’t sure whether she’ll find the dream home in Arlington. By telling her story she hopes to raise awareness about others who are middle-income and middle-aged and may be forced out due to affordability.
“I hope those of us who love this county and want to stay can have our concerns heard and addressed.”