Now soaring rents, Winn’s failing health and the budget deadlock in Washington are threatening to upset the fragile balance that has kept the one-time custodian going.
His right lung has collapsed four times. His roommate has been hospitalized and might be headed for a nursing home, which could push Winn from his cramped quarters by month’s end. And as a result of the sequester, the federal housing voucher that was Winn’s main alternative was rescinded this month before he could find a place to use it.
“I can’t live outside . . . no way. I can barely survive indoors, going room to room,” said Winn, who spoke on a recent afternoon between coughs and gasps and pauses to rest as he shuffled across the wood floor.
The math isn’t in his favor.
Winn’s monthly income from Social Security is $710, and he receives an additional $35 in food stamps. He pays about $400 a month for space in his friend’s apartment, which is just off Fairfax Boulevard.
But the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Fairfax, one of the nation’s wealthiest counties, is more than $1,200. Amid the high incomes in many Washington communities, the disabled and poor still struggle to find housing and some face homelessness even as they hold down jobs, as was the case with Winn.
And for many people, the sequester could make that search harder.
The federal housing voucher Winn received in December, which he hoped to use to find his own place, was rescinded earlier this month by Fairfax officials, who cited the loss of $2.5 million in federal funds. Assistance for up to 150 homeless individuals or families, and others who had reached the top of Fairfax’s years-long waiting list to get a voucher, will be blocked in 2013, officials said.
The decisions pain them, housing officials said, but they blame Washington.
“We understand . . . that this situation — the result of federal decisions that are out of our control — is frustrating,” wrote Paula C. Sampson, Fairfax’s housing director, in a letter to Winn.
In interviews, county housing officials acknowledged the disappointment they’re bringing, but they declined to be quoted by name. In a written statement, they said they are “very sympathetic to the painful burden this places on some of our most vulnerable neighbors.”
Having help, but then so quickly losing it, has been tough for Winn to accept.
“It ain’t that I didn’t get one. I got one,” Winn said of the voucher. “I think they ought to follow through.”
Fairfax officials could find room in the county’s multibillion-dollar budget to make up for the lost federal funds and subsidize Winn’s housing. But even in one of the commonwealth’s more generous jurisdictions, where affordable housing and preventing homelessness have been priorities, officials say they face limits.