Helping people keep their homes safe


I’ll bet you know someone living in one of our cherished farmhouses or grand, old Victorian houses where the porch is sagging, the roof needs repair and the furnace is just hanging on by a hair. The spare cash to make these repairs is just not there, already committed to food, taxes and healthc are expenses.

Homeowners may not be aware that there are programs designed to help. One possibility is a low cost -- or even deferred payment -- home repair loan from the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust (W&WHT). Over the past seven years, 189 local families have received loans to help with critical repairs.

Alternatively, there is the Apartments in Homes program of Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing. It provides a $3,000 grant to help a single-family homeowner convert under-used space into a modest apartment. The owner gets income from the apartment and the tenant a pleasant place to live at an affordable rent. To date this program has helped 43 homeowners to create apartments. (With current funding, this is available only in Brattleboro and Bellows Falls.)

These programs are underused because so few people seem to know about them. I, myself, am an ancient and retired social worker, fortunate enough to live comfortably. However, the old "fix-it" gene that preordained that I would end up in that line of work seems not to have died with the retirement. I write this in an attempt to acquaint our local citizens with the many programs that are out there just waiting to be accessed.

Eligibility for some of these programs is tied to a variety of income guidelines such as those published annually by the Federal program, HUD specifically for our county here in southern Vermont.

Maximum eligible incomes might range from $35,000 for one person up to $50,300 for a family of four, and sometimes higher. In 2013, 80 percent of the county median income for one person is an annual income of $35,250. For two people the number is $40,250 and for a family of four it is $50,300. These are not poor people. They are usually hardworking, two-income families trying to keep up with how expensive it is to live here. There is, or should not be, any loss of self esteem and independence in utilizing some of these available funds.

They are not charity and utilizing the programs yourself does not mean you are taking anything away from someone else. Vermonters are notorious for saying, "I can do it myself. I don’t need any help. Give it to someone who needs it more than I do." That Puritan streak is alive and well in New England. Some years ago our Town Nurse and I canvassed a neighborhood here with houses all occupied by local seniors. We were hoping to get a NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) designation for that small area here in Wilmington and then a grant from the state to retrofit the houses with ramps and a bathroom on the main floor. Every single one of the half dozen people we spoke to said, "Oh, I won’t need that. Why don’t you contact that old fellow down the street." The Town Nurse tells me that one by one each of these seniors either fell or got seriously ill and had to leave their homes. Because I, too, am getting old, I am acutely aware of how vulnerable one gets as a senior, and wish there was some way to get past that "No, not me" idea.

If your income falls below the 50 percent of median level, as it does for many seniors living on their Social Security, there are deferred loans available for repairs to your roof, well, septic system, electrical and plumbing. You stay in your house. You do not make payments on the loan; you simply pay off the loan when you sell your home.

Think how many elders or disabled could benefit from a bathroom retrofit enabling them to live on one floor and not have the challenge of stairs. If, like me, you have asthma, health and safety hazards like lead paint or mold can be addressed with these deferred loan funds. It is worth a phone call to find out what is out there and just waiting to be accessed before you trip on that broken step or loose plank and wind up in a cast, with the cascade of problems that follow.

I worked as a volunteer for a while at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend. What really struck me is how many people fall. I suppose I should have known that. But somehow I did not. I suppose I just did not want to know until it was right in my face. Please do not wait until a crisis occurs. Do what you can to bring your home up to safe standards. For more information call 802 246-2116 for W&WHT or 802-246-2224 for Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing.

Claudette Hollenbeck is a retired Social Worker residing in Wilmington, on the Boards of both West River Habitat for Humanity and Windham & Windsor Housing Trust.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions