BUSINESS PROFILE: Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County
Through simple repairs, HFH’s Aging in Place program helps people stay in their homes
By Jillian Kellerman
Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County launched the Aging in Place Program in 2017 to address the need for affordable repairs for older adults in the area. The focus of the program is to make improvements to the safety, accessibility, energy efficiency, or other minor repairs in the home. The program helps preserve the independence of homeowners, allowing them to remain in the comfort of their own homes.
Aging in Place projects revolve around simple fixes, such as grab bars installed in showers or near toilets, railings placed on stairs, installation of shower seats, walk-in showers, tub cut-outs, replacing caulking, sealing, or new weather strips.
Applications are accepted year-round, and the process is simple, starting with a short two-page application. “Approved homeowners must be 65 or older (or have a medical disability), have current homeowner’s insurance, meet income guidelines, reside in their home full-time, and live in Douglas County for at least 12 months,” said Denise Schapekahm, Homeowner Services Coordinator.
Once approved, Habitat provides a free home assessment and creates recommendations for improvements. Habitat’s Construction Coordinator is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), a designation given to those who have completed additional training through the National Association of Home Builders giving them the skills and knowledge necessary to modify a home to meet the unique needs of the older population, disabled owners, or their visitors. “We feel the CAPS certification investment is important because it helps us better serve the homeowners,” said Sara Gronholz, Community Engagement Manager.
The Aging in Place Program includes a partnership with an occupational therapist, who can provide suggestions where the homeowner could benefit in their home – adding grab bars, removing rugs, even something as simple as lever-style door handles. This service is provided at no additional cost to the homeowner and allows for a proactive approach and a better understanding of potential safety needs that may arise in the future or may have gone unnoticed. “The participation of the occupational therapist provides a more holistic approach to the program, so we can preserve the homeowner’s dignity while providing a well-rounded experience for them,” Sara said.
Another partnership the program has created is with the American Red Cross. Through this program, homeowners can receive free, up-to-date smoke detectors in their homes. According to the Minnesota State Fire Marshal, smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years.
Once the assessments are complete, Denise reviews the recommended repairs and a cost estimate with the homeowner. The homeowners make the final decision as to which work will be completed. “Every project is unique to the homeowner and what their needs are. They own the decisions about the work, which is important to them,” said Sara.
Repayment for Aging in Place projects is based on income, ranging anywhere from 50-100 percent of the total project cost. The maximum cost of a project is $7,500; homeowners may have up to three years to repay for the work, and no liens are placed against the home. “The financial help from the program is unbelievable. I would never have been able to have all this work done if it were not for the Aging in Place program,” said recipient Sharon. “Having my shower upstairs and handrails to the basement will help me stay in my home longer. I appreciate this work more than you know. Thank you for the excellent work.”
“Aging in Place has been a really great program,” said Denise. “They love their houses and want to stay there as long as they can. Every homeowner has a different story, and we do everything we can to set them up for success.”
One recipient, Dennis, had grab bars installed in his bathroom and next to his bed, as well as a sliding shower chair and hand-held shower head installed in his bathtub.
“He can just push a button and it scoots him right over,” said Denise. For Dennis, these changes allowed him to focus on his healing without a fear of falling.
“The process was worry-free. The grab bars make moving around so much easier and safer. Now I can live independently, without fear of falling, and focus on my health,” said homeowner Dennis.
Another recipient, Bernadette, sent a second thank you note a year after her project was complete, saying, “It’s been a year and I just wanted to let you know I am still so thankful for all that you did, that I am able to stay in my home.”
The Aging in Place program is in addition to Habitat’s affordable homeownership program. “We started the program because there is a large demographic in our area in need of this work. Many older homes were not built for aging adults – they have narrow hallways, unsafe bathrooms, stairs, or split entries,” Sara said. “It has been a terrific addition to our services, allowing us to serve even more families. Since 2017, we have completed 73 projects.” Their goal is to serve 25 more families by June 2024.
Habitat’s affordable homeownership program started in 1997. Since then, 84 homes have been built or improved throughout Douglas County. Each homeowner is selected based on three criteria: need for housing, ability to pay, and willingness to partner. Homeowners work alongside volunteers to help build their homes and pay an affordable mortgage upon purchasing the home.
Currently, Habitat is building five homes and plans to build an additional five homes next year.
Each spring, Habitat holds their annual fundraiser, the Hard Hat Events. The events are free to attend, and donations help build affordable homes and fund Aging in Place repairs. The 18th annual Hard Hat Events will be held on May 15, 2024, at Broadway Ballroom.
The ReStore, Habitat’s nonprofit home improvement donation center and store, was opened in 2014 and will be celebrating 10 years in May. The ReStore sells new and gently used building materials, furniture, and appliances and all proceeds help fund affordable housing in Douglas County. They are located at 1211 N Nokomis NE, Alexandria, and are open Wednesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For donation hours or to schedule a donation, please call 320-759-1989.
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