Jeffrey Snure, a 76-year-old veteran, works full time for the U.S. Postal Service. He fears he will soon become homeless. (The Washington Post)
Columnist

Jeffrey Snure doesn’t want to end up homeless.

He told me this on a recent morning as we sat down to eat breakfast at a Latin American restaurant next to a 7-Eleven.

“Am I scared?” he said. “Better believe I’m scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how to keep it from happening.”

Lately, he has paid more attention to a man who walks through his Northern Virginia neighborhood who appears as if he’s barely avoiding life on the street.

“Every time I see him, I get very nervous,” Snure said. “I don’t want that to happen to me.”

Snure is a 76-year-old veteran. He also works full time for the U.S. Postal Service. He shouldn’t be worried about sleeping on a sidewalk. And yet, in recent weeks, as he faces eviction from the apartment where he has lived for more than two decades, Snure has found himself feeling increasingly frustrated, lost and, yes, even scared, as he searches for a rarity in the region: an affordable place to live.

Discussions about affordable housing in Northern Virginia have ramped up since Amazon announced it was moving to the area and bringing with it 25,000 high-paying jobs. Those employees will need somewhere to live, and the full impact they will have on the housing market and, in particular, affordable housing, remains unknown.

What is known is that rents were rising and affordable housing was declining in the area even before Amazon announced its plans. We can study charts and graphs to understand what that means for people in this area. We can also learn by listening to our neighbors who have faced that side of the housing market.

Snure has spent five weeks looking for a place to live that he hopes won’t cost much more than the $1,200 a month he pays now.

He first emailed me in early January, telling me he was being evicted from an apartment where he had lived for 27 years and that he didn’t know what to do. His landlord, he later told me, said he had too much stuff and that conditions there had drawn a visit from the fire department. He said he understands he has to leave and, despite being limited by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), he has started to place his belongings in storage.

He wasn’t writing to complain about his eviction, and that’s not the point of this column. It’s about the question he faced after realizing he had to find a new place: “What now?”

In that first email, he wrote: “don’t have the big monies to run around looking at apts or the money for movers to pack me up and get my stuff stored. this is a complete mess and the CLOCK IS RUNNING.”

We talked, and he continued to email me updates on his search. Several days ago, he wrote, “I have been on the net a lot and on the phone . . . NOTHING . . . I REPEAT NOTHING . . . pray for me. still trying.”

I met with him that recent morning to better understand his situation. He picked the spot and brought military records with him to show me he had served in the Marine Corps from 1961 to 1965, and in the Army from 1967 to 1983.

It’s possible there is more to his situation than what he told me and what records show, but what was clear that day was that a desperate man sat across from me.

Snure spoke bluntly about his main regret: not saving more money over the years. He said he gave generously to people in his life and that while he had saved some money, it wasn’t enough that he didn’t have to worry when he paid $700 recently to fix his 1994 Buick.

He said he has worked for the Postal Service for more than two decades, and he spends six days a week fixing mail-sorting machines as an electronic technician. For that, he said he earns about $66,000 a year.

“I’m the first one to say, ‘I’m a lucky SOB,’” he said. “It’s true. I got a good job.”

The problem, he said, is that he earns too much to qualify for government-assisted affordable housing, but not enough to afford much of what’s available. People who fall into this category are called the “missing middle” and have raised concerns for affordable-housing advocates.

Michelle Krocker, executive director of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, said even people who fall just above the federal threshold won’t qualify, “and yet can’t find anything in the market.”

“Finding affordable housing in Northern Virginia is very difficult because it’s shrinking and it’s nonexistent,” she said.

Most people who are looking for it have to connect with a government agency or a nonprofit organization to help them, she said.

“Because it’s such a precious resource, it’s such a scarce commodity, it’s hard for the average person to find,” Krocker said.

Snure faces the additional challenge of not being plugged into the digital age. He doesn’t have a cellphone. He lost his a few months back and didn’t replace it because he found it difficult to use.

He also doesn’t have Internet service at his apartment, so he has to drive to places where he can log on.

When he has gone online, he has typed words such as “veteran” and “homeless” and “on the street” to find resources.

Based on those searches, he has made calls, sent emails and even written a letter to an official at the Department of Veterans Affairs. But so far, no one has been able to help him find an apartment, he said.

“I’m watching the clock go,” he said. “I’m watching the calendar go, and I’m saying, ‘In my situation, what’s going to happen? I don’t have nothing.’”

When we met, he said he had not told his co-workers about his situation because he was “embarrassed.” But he decided to share his story publicly because he knows he’s not the only one in the area facing the frustrations of a housing market that doesn’t have much room for him.

He knows he’s not the only one worried about becoming homeless.