Home Remedy: ARC Grants Help Older Adults Modify Houses and Age in Place

Last year, Mamie Rogers and her husband, Star Lee, patched their leaky roof. The leak wouldn’t stop, and they had to add fresh patches earlier this year. Even then, water continued to seep through the roof of their southwest Atlanta home. The retired couple couldn’t afford a new roof, which they estimated would cost about $7,000.

The pandemic, unexpectedly, provided a permanent fix for Mamie and Star Lee. This past year, COVID-19 federal relief funds went to provide a range of services for home-bound older adults. This freed up monies for ARC, metro Atlanta’s Area Agency on Aging, to provide one-time funding for home repairs to allow older adults to age in place.

Mamie and Star Lee
Photo of Mamie and Star Lee

So this spring, Mamie and Star Lee, a Navy veteran, were able to replace their roof, which was 18 years old. Thanks to an ARC grant given to Meals on Wheels Atlanta that funds home modifications for adults age 60 and over, their house got a new roof.

“Replacing the roof was a big blessing because financially we were not able to,” says Mamie, who is 75.

ARC awarded $1.15 million in grants to Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels Atlanta, and HouseProud Atlanta. With these funds, the three nonprofits are assisting older adults with critical home repairs so they can live at home as they age.

“This is a remarkable opportunity for older adults who don’t have the financial resources to retrofit their homes,” said Becky Kurtz, managing director of ARC’s Aging & Independence Services Group. “These modifications will go a long way in helping them live more independently and age in place.”

Many older adults want to age at home. According to a 2018 AARP survey, three out of four adults age 50 and older want to age in their homes and communities rather than move to institutional settings such as nursing homes. But replacing roofs, adding ramps and retrofitting bathrooms can be costly for people living on a fixed income.

The financial constraints of low-income older persons can often lead to deferred maintenance on homes, placing them in danger. Also, as adults age, mobility can be impaired, making ramps and other enhancements necessary for mobility, safety and independence.

ARC received the funds for home repairs from the state’s Home & Community Based Services, a program that assists older individuals with services at home and in the community. The repairs and modifications are being made by contractors vetted by the three nonprofits. The funding must be spent by June 30, 2021. Funds for each home will be capped at $20,000.

Recipients who are eligible for home modification and repair assistance are screened by the nonprofits, must demonstrate economic need and own their home. All the available state funds have been allocated among the three nonprofits.

With its $500,000 ARC grant, Meals on Wheels Atlanta was able to provide more comprehensive repairs to the homes of its existing clients. The nonprofit is doing home repairs for 46 older adults, including Mamie and Star Lee Rogers, mostly replacing roofs and retrofitting bathrooms.

Meals on Wheels Atlanta also helped East Point residents Ernestine Stokes and her husband, Robert, who is an Army veteran. Robert can walk very little and needs assistance to leave the house for medical appointments. Meals on Wheels built a ramp at the front of their house.

A ramp in front of an East Point resident's house
The ramp Meals on Wheels built for Robert

Before, Ernestine’s son and nephew had to carry Robert out, lifting him on the wheelchair or helping him walk. Now with the ramp, it’s easier to get him in and out of the house. Robert recently went for his second COVID vaccine and was able to use the ramp. People can push him out easily.

“It does make a drastic difference when you get help,” says Ernestine. “It takes a lot stress out of people when you’re on a fixed income and things still need to be done.”

As for Mamie and Star Lee, Meals on Wheels also replaced their gutters and made improvements to their driveway. By adding concrete to their existing driveway, they can now enter the house easily from the back and avoid the stairs. Since they both have knee implants, not using the stairs makes a huge difference in their lives.

“It’s been a lifesaver for me to be able to drive to the back and avoid the steps,” Mamie explains. “All the repairs took the stress off us.”

What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.