Does Habitat for Humanity Help Seniors Age in Place?

Elena, 85, moved into a ranch house decades ago, hoping to grow old gracefully in her one-story home. As she started getting older and was on her own, she worried about how she would tackle the upkeep her home required. Thirty years passed — and she lived in a weather-beaten house with steps in the front that she could no longer negotiate.

Elena remembers her granddaughter volunteering for Habitat for Humanity a few years ago to build homes for the poor. So, from what she knew about Habitat for Humanity, their purpose was to build homes for those in need financially. Little did Elena know that older adults now account for more than half of all Habitat for Humanity remodels, and most of what they are doing is making homes more accessible for aging in place.

What is Habitat for Humanity’s Aging in Place Program?

Habitat for Humanity is a global nonprofit housing organization working in local communities across all 50 states in the U.S. and in approximately 70 countries. Habitat’s vision is of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Since its inception 46 years ago, Habitat for Humanity International has mostly been known for building homes for low-income families, as mentioned. Former President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn are among its most famous volunteers, building homes in more than a dozen countries. Habitat for Humanity’s Aging in Place program is an initiative launched seven years ago to help older adults remain and age safely in their homes.

After responding to an ad she saw in the local paper, Elena in our example connected with Habitat for Humanity’s Aging in Place program in her area. In a single afternoon, Habitat staff and volunteers checked off Elena’s years-long dream of repainting her home and adding a ramp where stairs used to be. While there, the crew discovered that Elena’s water heater had broken and that for over a month, she had been heating water on the stove — one pot at a time — to bathe and wash dishes. This wasn’t just time-consuming; it was dangerous because of the potential risk of being scalded by the water. After a full day of scraping, sanding, and painting, Habitat staff returned to repair the water heater — restoring Elena’s warm water and her safety.

Many Seniors Want to Stay in Their Homes, But Cannot

According to the Census Bureau, 62 million women and men in the U.S. are 65 or older. The number is expected to grow to 78 million over the next 15 years. A 2018 AARP survey found that, similar to Elena, more than three-fourths of older Americans prefer to stay in their home as they age. However, that same survey found that only 46% of participants anticipate they’ll be able to.

For some people, the combination of physical challenges and a fixed income in the face of costly repairs can force them to move. Deferred but critical home projects often become larger, more expensive issues that can threaten residents’ health, safety, and even their home ownership through repeated code violations.

For others, their homes simply weren’t built to accommodate the changing needs and abilities that come with aging. Stairs can cut residents off from second stories and basements, and even the outside world. Shelves become unreachable. Door and cabinet handles become difficult to grasp.

Through the Aging in Place program, Habitat for Humanity tries to alleviate these issues for as many seniors as possible so more can have the choice of where they grow older. For Elena, who has always wanted to age in the comfort of her own home, she feels more confident in that desire now that these repairs have been made.

How Habitat for Humanity Determines Which Repairs are Needed

To guide their work, Habitat developed “Housing Plus,” a comprehensive aging in place strategy. This person-centered approach uses two different assessments to tailor the process to each homeowner’s needs:

  • A home repair evaluation by a construction specialist from the local Habitat organization;
  • A functional survey, completed in coordination with a local human services professional. During this conversation, the homeowner discusses their activities of daily living, such as bathing and getting around the house, as well as how they pay bills, clean their homes, communicate with others, run errands, and manage any medications they take.

These assessments, which consider everything from the resident’s lifestyle to type of home, allow Habitat for Humanity to address the older adult’s needs, improving the likelihood they can age in place.

Qualifying for Habitat for Humanity’s Aging in Place Programs

To qualify for most Habitat for Humanity Aging in Place programs, the beneficiary’s income can’t exceed 80% of the region’s median. Materials for repairs typically cost between $1,400 – $1,900, but labor is free.

AARP estimates 87% of the 55 million Americans age 65 and older want to age in place or stay in their own communities. With those statistics in mind, some Habitat chapters fear demand for repairs could become so strong they might not have enough money to meet it. Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, for instance, estimates that up to 6,000 of its older residents may need home repairs over the next five years. But the nonprofit says at current funding levels, it may only be able to help about 300 of them.

Common Concerns About Aging in Place

Are you or a loved one aging in place? If staying in your home is important to you, you may have concerns about safety, getting around, or other activities of daily life, even after home repairs and modifications are made. These suggestions can help with common concerns about aging in place:

Are you having trouble walking? Perhaps a walker would help. If you need more, think about getting an electric chair or scooter. These are usually covered by Medicare.

Do you need someone to go with you to the doctor or shopping? Volunteer companion services may be available. If you are no longer driving a car, find out if there are free or low-cost public transportation and taxis in your area. Maybe a relative, friend, or neighbor would take you along when they go on errands or do yours for you. To learn about resources in your community, contact Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 (toll-free) or https://eldercare.acl.gov.

Is it hard for you to leave your home? Perhaps once it is safer, you would enjoy visits from someone. Volunteers are sometimes available to stop by or call once a week. They can keep you company, or you can talk about any problems you are having. Call your local Area Agency on Aging to see if they are available near you.

Are you worried about crime in your neighborhood, physical abuse, or losing money as a result of a scam? Talk to the staff at your local Area Agency on Aging.

If you live alone, are you afraid of becoming sick with no one around to help? You might want to get an emergency alert system. You just push a special button that you wear, and emergency medical personnel are called. There is typically a monthly fee for this service.

Would a few changes make your home easier and safer to live in? Think about things like a ramp at the front door, grab bars in the tub or shower, nonskid floors, more comfortable handles on doors or faucets, and better insulation. Sound expensive? You might be able to get help paying for these changes. Check with your local Habitat for Humanity Aging in Place program, as described in this article. If you don’t qualify, check out our web page Trusted Referrals of Other Senior-Serving Professionals for a list of recommended contractors that specialize in Aging-in-Place/Universal Design.

Do you need care but live with someone who can’t stay with you during the day? For example, maybe they work. Adult day care outside the home is sometimes available for older people who need help caring for themselves. The day care center can sometimes pick you up and bring you home. If your caretaker needs to be away overnight or longer, there are places that provide temporary respite care.

Geriatric care managers are specially trained professionals that can help find resources to make your daily life easier. They will work with you to form a long-term care plan and find the services you need. Geriatric care managers can be helpful when family members live far apart. For referrals to Geriatric Care Managers and other local professionals, please see our Trusted Referrals of Other Senior-Serving Professionals page for recommendations.

When Aging-in-Place is No Longer an Option

What happens when you or a loved one can no longer age-in-place? Nursing homes in Northern Virginia and the rest of the Washington, D.C. Metro area cost $12,000 – $14,000 per month, which can be catastrophic even for wealthy families. By being proactive and helping your loves ones plan for long term care in advance, you can help make sure your loved ones always receive the care they need without worry or financial struggle. You’ll further avoid many costly legal headaches that often result when people are not prepared for incapacity or ongoing care needs. It’s never too early or too late to get started. Reach out to us to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation:

Elder Care Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Care Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Care Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Care DC: 202-587-2797

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