by Martin Wilbur
The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity last week launched a new program that will help make certain improvements to the homes of eligible Westchester seniors to allow more older residents to remain in their homes.
Aging in Place is a program that will make low-cost but high-impact upgrades such as installing grab bars, handrails and raised toilet seats, converting a conventional bathtub into a walk-in shower and modifications to reduce the likelihood of falls, among other improvements, said Christopher Illum, chief program officer and executive vice president for Habitat for Humanity in New York City and Westchester.
Since Habitat for Humanity has historically not had much of a foothold in the county, the nonprofit organization is partnering with Westchester Residential Opportunities (WRO), which helps underserved populations, including seniors and the disabled, to find housing, will help execute the program, he said.
Illum said Habitat for Humanity heard repeatedly the desire for seniors to stay in their homes, particularly in Westchester, but often older residents on fixed incomes might not go to the expense of making improvements that will maintain maximum safety and efficiency.
“This was a need and a skill set that we have and a population that definitely needs to be served, and we’re happy to participate and partner with the folks in the area,” Illum said.
In order for a senior to be eligible to receive the free service, they must own and live in their own house, condominium or co-op, be at least 62 years old and have an annual income that does not exceed 80 percent of area median income (AMI).
Each homeowner can receive up to $5,000 worth of work in their residence under the program’s rules. A little over $100,000 has been raised through corporate donations to help fund the work for roughly the first 20 applicants, Illum said. The financial support has come from the Field Hall Foundation, Bank of America, Con Edison, and M&T Bank.
The local Habitat for Humanity has also chipped in a modest sum of additional money for the program, Illum said.
As residents nationwide continue to age, there is a demonstrated need around the United States, including in Westchester, to find new ways to help as many seniors as possible stay in their homes. From 2000 to 2017, the number of residents at least 75 years old in the county has skyrocketed about 52 percent, according to the Westchester County Housing Needs Assessment.
“As our senior population increases, with the number of residents aged 60 or over expected to rise to 25 percent by 2030, our existing countywide deficiency of affordable housing for seniors, many of whom live on fixed incomes, becomes more acute while the wait for affordable housing grows longer,” Marlene Zarfes, executive director of WRO, said in a statement. “These funds will help us make necessary aging-in-place repairs that enable seniors to remain safely in their homes.”
Illum said the next step is to secure the $500,000 that was set aside for Aging in Place in the federal Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Budget Bill that was supported by Sen. Chuck Schumer and former congressman Mondaire Jones. That will enable Habitat for Humanity to increase the size and the scope of the projects, he said.
In the future, Aging in Place would look to undertake more extensive work such as bathroom remodeling as well as making homes more energy efficient. It plans to partner with the NYSERDA-certified contractor CentsibleHouse with roof repair, HVAC and boiler upgrades, insulation and window and door replacement.
“Where we can save a senior money on energy costs, we’re certainly benefitting the environment but we’re also allowing for seniors to stay in place, particularly (those) on fixed incomes,” Illum said.
Illum said Habitat for Humanity is also working with Julie Liu, the founder of CentsibleHouse to help aspiring homeowners realize their dream. CentsibleHouse has done extensive work with the senior population in the New York area.
Seniors who would like to apply for the initial phase of Aging in Place improvements, call 914-240-7003, e-mail AgingInPlace@HabitatNYCWC.org or visit www.habitatnycwc.org/aging-in-place to download an application.