Cheryl Kramer eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at work. She and her family plan a vacation several months or longer in advance and skip trips some years. Kramer meticulously analyzes what she spends and saves.
During the class on budgeting she teaches at Housing Assistance Corp., she extols the virtue of people being honest with themselves. Write down those $5 sandwiches or that $8 glass of wine. Keep track of where the money's going.
Remember the larger goals, she often tells those that attend her class. The same principle applies whether it's buying a house, keeping the house, getting out of credit card debt or making car payments.
"You are the one to decide," she said. "You have to have that commitment."
Kramer, manager of the housing consumer education center at HAC, doesn't urge people to follow in her specific financial footprints. She doesn't tell people how much to set aside for entertainment, clothes or any other category.
"I don't teach anything with a wagging finger," Kramer said, who leads other classes as well including rebuilding your credit and first-time home buying.
Instead, Kramer focuses on how setting up a budget and being cognizant of spending can help someone reach a bigger goal.
"Everybody has to think a little proactively about the process," she said.
HAC holds the free budgeting class about four times a year, she said. The next one is scheduled for June 24.
Often, people don't think about their small purchases, like a daily coffee, and how they add up when not keeping a budget. By detailing what one spends money on, people can visually understand how much those small purchases are costing them.
"Those couple dollars add up to a lot of money for a lot of folks," she said.
During a recent class, Kramer said its good to tell other people your long-term financial goals, such as buying a new car or paying for college tuition.
"I think it's good to share your dreams," she said. "They hold you accountable."
Some people overextend themselves to save money or pay off debts. That can leave them scrambling to find funds for everyday living or paying for emergencies.
"Don't set that bar so high," she said during the recent class. "Don't overburden yourself."
Marstons Mills resident Jill Quin and her daughter Ali Quin were in Kramer's class last week.
Jill Quin and her husband, Jack, faced "a little rough stretch" seven years ago after he lost his full-time job as a manufacturer's sales rep.
The pair sold a vehicle, stopped going out to eat and cut other costs. "We basically stopped spending," said Jill Quin, a real estate appraiser.
Last year, the couple paid off the last of their debts beyond their regular mortgage payments.
Now, Jill Quin said, the challenge is balancing saving with spending on things that add to life, such as vacations.
"It's finding what makes you comfortable," she said.
WEST YARMOUTH — Somehow Alexander Pessarodo, his wife and two little boys have made living in a motel room work for their little family.
But now that they are being evicted from their room at West Yarmouth Lodgings on Route 28, Pessarodo, who works construction and as a night cook, admits he is scared.
He and his wife, a dishwasher, can't afford to pay the apartment market rate.
Rental agents told him less-expensive off-season housing may be available in November, but his family would have to move out in May when tourists and seasonal workers return to the Cape and bump up rental prices.
"Right now, it's kind of hard," Pessarodo said. The clock is ticking on his housing search.
Pessarodo and other long-term residents of the motel received 30-day eviction notices Sept. 14, days before a Barnstable Superior Court judge found motel owner Harry Miller in contempt for continuing to use his motels as apartments.
In January the town of Yarmouth won a court case against Miller that upheld a town bylaw limiting motel stays to 30 consecutive days or 90 days during a three-month period.
Town officials gave Miller until May 3 to remove tenants from West Yarmouth Lodgings and the Cavalier Motel, also on Route 28.
When that date came and went, they took Miller to court. On Sept. 21, Judge Christopher Muse put the motels into receivership and placed an attachment on both motels, as well as the Seagull Beach Motel, also owned by Miller.
The losers appear to be the tenants, many of whom appear to have few other housing options.
"It was really a shock for me," Pessarodo said. His oldest son just started kindergarten in Yarmouth.
'You can't afford to live here'
To understand the motel crisis, people need to understand that high rental housing costs are putting regular apartments out of the reach of many low-income families, housing advocates say.
A two-bedroom apartment on the Cape will cost a tenant more than $1,000, not counting utilities, said Allison Rice, vice president of the nonprofit Housing Assistance Corp.
The same type of housing in New Bedford or Fall River costs about $650 a month, which is why HAC often counsels people to cross the bridges in search of rental units, Rice said.
"Nine times out of 10 the answer is, 'You can't afford to live here,'" Rice said.
As far as subsidized housing is concerned, there is a waiting list of more than five years for programs such as Section 8 rental vouchers, she said.
"If you're getting on a housing list now, don't hold your breath," Rice said.
She said the number of Section 8 vouchers — of which her organization administers 700 — has remained stagnant since the Clinton years, even as folks at the bottom of the income ladder increasingly get squeezed out of housing options.
People end up living in motels because they can scrape together the $250 per week it typically costs to live there, which usually includes utilities, cable and water, Rice said.
"They can come up with that each week," she said. "That's something that can be managed."
First and last month's rent and security deposits also work to price low-income people out of rental housing.
Money running low
Michael Macura, who lives at West Yarmouth Lodgings with his wife, needs $2,400 to cover the cost of first and last month's rent and security for a studio apartment in Hyannis.
The cost of the studio over a garage is $800 a month, which is only $50 more than what he pays at West Yarmouth Lodgings.
But Macura, who lives on Social Security disability payments, doesn't have the savings it would require to secure the apartment.
Help is available, in theory.
HAC, a nonprofit based in Hyannis, has a homelessness prevention fund to help people deal with these costs.
But it's running dangerously low, Rice said.
Two years ago, the state stopped providing matching funds. Now the program depends mainly on local churches to raise $3,000 to $4,000, which is generous of them but not nearly enough to handle the need, Rice said.
Without access to these funds, Macura would prefer to stay put in his tidy motel room with his white-painted bureau, coffee table, medications and oxygen equipment.
"I'm scared," he said. "I don't want to leave."
Robert Wilds, president of Miller's company, Admiralty Lodgings, criticized the town of Yarmouth for participating in what he called a "witch hunt" against Miller.
"I don't think the town has been very accommodating at all," he said. "They have no place to put (the tenants) and they know it."
Approximately 100 tenants live in West Yarmouth Lodgings, the Cavalier Motel and the Seagull Beach Motel, Wilds said. Some of the tenants are seasonal employees who are returning soon to their home countries.
Seven to eight other motels in Yarmouth are being used as apartments and they are not facing the town's wrath, Wilds said.
Not enough options
Driving down Route 28 in West Yarmouth, it's easy to see what he means.
Many of the people taking in the sunshine in the parking lots and balconies of neighboring motels do not appear to be tourists.
They call each other by name and prop open their doors with chairs. People propel themselves in wheelchairs; mothers push babies in strollers.
Clients in these other motels stay for 29 days and then either re-register under a different name or leave to stay with a friend for a night or two before returning, Wilds said.
Miller's problem was that he admitted outright that he provided housing for low-income people and planned to continue doing so, Wilds said.
"They have no other options. That's the sad part," said Debbie Bellows, manager of West Yarmouth Lodgings.
But compared with other motels in the area, Miller's employees run a tight ship, she said.
Bellows runs criminal record checks on new tenants to make sure they do not have outstanding warrants, and she patrols the grounds with a fistful of keys like the chatelaine of a castle keep.
The only one she actually uses is a small skeleton key that allows her to check rooms for contraband hot plates.
While she's more than happy to evict a rowdy visitor, Bellows understands perhaps better than anyone what draws people to motel life.
She lives on the premises in an apartment with her boyfriend.
"The jobs are not paying enough," Bellows said. Motel tenants often bounce in and out of rental housing, falling back on single rooms when they can no longer pay the utility bills or afford both groceries and rent.
"Some of these people have been evicted (from rental housing) five times," Bellows said. "It's really starting to irritate me that people don't understand."
Many motel tenants have the kind of low-paying and insecure jobs that are the first to be laid off in a recession and the last hired when employers are looking for new help.
Redevelopment plans in limbo
Jeremy Chipman, 22, who lives at West Yarmouth Lodgings with his fiancee and his grandfather, said he has applied for more than 40 jobs in the past year.
Motel tenants also include people on Social Security disability payments and families who are a few dollars ahead of qualifying for homeless shelters such as the Village at Cataumet, Rice said.
The rooming houses of Hyannis that used to accommodate people living on the fringes of society are mainly a thing of the past, she said.
The sad circumstances of motel tenancy so disturbed Brian Braginton-Smith, chairman of the Yarmouth Board of Health, that he proposed purchasing three of Miller's motels and converting some of them into affordable housing.
He said he has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with the intention of converting 35 motel units at West Yarmouth Lodgings into 28 units of affordable rental housing.
Another part of his plan was to enfold the Cavalier into a proposed South Yarmouth village center on Route 28 and create both workforce and market-rate housing there.
But Muse's decision to place the motels into receivership has jeopardized his plans, Braginton-Smith said.
A 2006 Yarmouth town bylaw allows motels to be redeveloped as housing units, but the motels need to continue to generate income in the meantime to make his project possible, Braginton-Smith said.
The plan is now "in limbo" and possibly "untenable," he said.
A Barnstable attorney has been given the authority to run Admiralty Lodgings and to use the rent money paid after May 3 to create a fund to assist current occupants, Yarmouth Assistant Town Administrator Peter Johnson-Staub said.
Miller could have sought the help of a town-established fund to convert the motels into licensed rental units, but he never did, Johnson-Staub said.
"How are we ever going to change things if we don't start somewhere? We're trying to convert this (Miller's) property," but the town is not the owner, Johnson-Staub said.
With room sizes of 200 to 300 square feet, West Yarmouth Lodgings would need an upgrade to meet the town bylaw that requires living space to consist of at least 400 square feet, Bellows said.
But the rooms are livable, she insisted.
Several years ago, Miller renovated the motel units, installing kitchen cabinets, sinks, microwaves and three-quarter size refrigerators in each room.
"He fixed them really nice. It's like a little studio-type thing," Bellows said.
One room was converted into a common kitchen with stovetops and large microwaves, while a unit a few doors down serves as the laundry room.
"I really feel like we did a service so (people) can have a roof over their head," Bellows said.
'What happens after that?'
More legal proceedings may be on the horizon, Johnson-Staub said.
Tenants could choose to ignore the eviction notices Miller issued last month, Johnson-Staub said. "What happens after that?"
On Oct. 26, Muse is scheduled to hear whether Miller has approved of working out a restitution plan for tenants who have been making payments since May 3, the date they were all supposed to be out.
Yarmouth town attorney Bruce Gilmore is enraged that Miller never showed up in court on the contempt charges, sending in officers of his company instead.
He has called for Miller's arrest.
Bellows is prepared for a fight.
"I'll sit here," she said. "I'll be the last one out. I'll probably be on TV in handcuffs. I care about the bylaws, but I don't want to put these people out on the road."
FORESTDALE — Standing in the kitchen of her home, Maureen Lemire posited that, if Sept. 11 memorialized buildings that came crashing down, maybe it was fitting that on this day something should be built.
On Sunday, Lemire watched as more than a dozen volunteers built a ramp and deck that would allow her disabled daughter, Cayla, 21, to get into a new addition specially constructed for her.
"This has been incredible, to have all these people here," Lemire said.
"They are great people."
This is the second year of The Big Fix, a one-day event in which Hyannis-based Housing Assistance Corp. organizes volunteers to focus on projects in one town that help disabled and senior citizens with home repairs that improve their quality of life.
Last year, HAC focused on Barnstable. This year, the nonprofit agency, which assists Cape residents in finding and staying in healthy, safe and stable homes, decided to concentrate their efforts in Sandwich.
Having The Big Fix happen on Sept. 11, which had been designated a National Day of Service and Remembrance, helped bolster the memory that the decade-old tragedy was also a day when Americans came together to help one another, as individuals and as a nation.
Earlier this summer, HAC staffers were discussing what projects to do this year when Julie Wake, director of marketing, received a phone call from Cayla's grandmother. The contractor who had been building an addition onto the Lemire house had walked away from the job. That plea was followed by a letter from Cayla, a second-year student at Northeastern University, taking courses online.
"It was a very honest, beautiful letter," Wake recalled. "I forwarded it to the rest of the team. We decided in the next couple of hours we would make it happen."
Cayla was born with a form of muscular dystrophy that requires her to be in a motorized wheelchair all day. But she also has a ready smile, an easy, patient disposition and alert mind.
Despite suffering a setback three years ago that had her hospitalized for 100 days at Massachusetts General Hospital and resulted in her having to breathe through a surgically implanted hole in her neck, she remained undaunted. Cayla graduated from Sandwich High School and aspires to a degree in psychology with hopes to work in that field or in social work.
Sunday, her hopes were concentrated on seeing her new addition, built with a special federal loan program, for the first time. Although the contractor left it unfinished, it's easy to visualize her sitting room, bedroom and a specially constructed bathroom she can access with her motorized wheelchair instead of being carried in.
"There are a lot of us in the profession who like to give back," said Neal Pratt, a custom builder who does a lot of volunteer work for HAC. Private contractors, AmeriCorps volunteers and HAC staffers swarmed over the ramp and yard, pouring concrete, cutting posts, screwing down decking. By early afternoon, they had the ramp nearly built.
Wake said the response from the building community was fantastic, with national companies chipping in; Home Depot gave them a $3,000 grant for materials. Town officials in Sandwich and Bourne also helped smooth the way, with expedited permitting and special access to disposal areas for construction waste.
"Meeting Cayla made it much more personal, knowing she will be able to get into her (addition)," said Rich Bryant, a senior project manager for Cape Associates Inc. of Eastham.
Cape Codders are reaching out to help neighbors in need. The Dennis-Yarmouth Ecumenical Council for the Prevention of Homelessness, or DYECH, has been working on this problem for the past 15 years.
When a family on Cape Cod is facing a financial crisis because of an accident, illness, job loss or other unforeseen event, it is often impossible to meet rent or mortgage payments. If a family is given assistance at this time, homelessness can be prevented. DYECH raises money to provide these funds and works with the Housing Assistance Corp. to help the family. As we are all aware, state funds that used to be part of this effort have been cut, and the prevention project depends solely on organizations like DYECH to help families in crisis.
The good news is that the people on Cape Cod are recognizing the problem and responding generously. Since June of 2010, DYECH has raised $89,000. Housing Assistance reports that with this money, 187 families have been able to stay in their own homes despite the setback that threatened the stability of their lives.
This is one of their stories.
The family consisted of two working parents and three children. The mother fell, broke her pelvis, and was unable to work for several months. Even though she had health insurance, the expenses of copays, medication and loss of wages meant that the family fell behind on their rent. They applied to HAC for assistance, and funds for back payment of the rent were provided. The mother has now returned to her job, the crisis has been averted and the family is safe at home.
DYECH raises most of its funds through the sale of gift cards to local grocery and other participating stores. More and more people are purchasing these cards and finding satisfaction in knowing that they are helping to prevent homelessness on Cape Cod. Sales of the gift cards have almost doubled this year in Yarmouth.
Anyone on Cape Cod who shops at a grocery store, CVS or Dunkin' Donuts can become part of this prevention project. It costs nothing to participate, except your good will. A person receives full value for the card at the store.
The gift cards made be purchased at branches of TD Bank, the Cape Cod Five banks and the Cape Cod Cooperative banks in Dennis and Yarmouth, local churches, and at HAC, 460 W. Main St., Hyannis. You may also mail a request for cards to Box 507, Yarmouthport, MA 02675. (Click for more ways to buy grocery cards and gift cards.)
It costs you nothing to use the card, but 5 percent of what you spend is donated to the prevention program.
Be part of the good news. Make it better. More neighbors helping neighbors will make Cape Cod a better place for all of us.
Mary D. Joyce of Yarmouthport is a DYECH volunteer.