Rent hike a step too far for Austin senior dancers

Getting some dancing into your routine not only keeps you active, it can improve your mental health. That's why a group of Austinites puts on weekly dances to help keep Austin seniors on their toes.

AUSTIN - Getting dancing into your routine not only keeps you active, but it can improve your mental health -- which is why a group of Austinites puts on weekly dances to help keep Austin seniors on their toes. However, an unexpected change is forcing these dancers to take a step back.

The Wednesday and Friday Night Dance Club is a non-profit organization that has been around for 23 years and serves the seniors of Austin. These dancers come Wednesday and Friday night from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. to dance with their friends. It costs $5 to attend each day.

Alice "Totsy" Wagner is about to turn 95 this month and has been a member of this group for 11 years. She said this group has a special vibe to it.

"It has been such an important thing in our life," Wagner said. "Everyone comes and dances. Most of us get interaction we don't normally get in life."

Tommie Scarmardo is the president of the group and said this type of community was what the founders wanted from the very beginning.

"It's very unique," Scarmardo said. "This is the one place the senior citizen can come and dance and party and have a good time."

Now Scarmardo's dance group is in a predicament. The group currently dances at the South Austin Senior Activity Center and pays $60 a night to rent their room. In 2018, this number is going to rise to $420 a night.

"We have been getting vibes it was going to go up, but this type of increase was unexpected," Scarmardo said. "Our people just can't afford that."

According to Austin Parks and Recreation Public Information Officer Shelly Parks, the reason for this jump is because they are going to have to bump up the pay of facility staff from $7.50 an hour to $15.00 an hour -- causing a rise in rent prices.

Barbara Guillot is the club's secretary and said most of the people who come not only need to be close to where they dance, but also only have so much money to budget for dancing.

"Almost everybody here is on a fixed income," Guillot said. "It's just not going to be feasible even once a month, much less twice a week."

Wagner said she plans to keep dancing as long as she can, and she hopes to do so with this same group.

"I sure would hate to see this go away," Wagner said. "I just don't know what we would do without our Wednesday night and Friday night."

Scarmardo said they haven't been able to find another location in the right price range and might have to consider shutting down if a reasonable option doesn't surface. She also said she will be meeting with the center's director next week to talk about this rise in cost.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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