Tim Womack is the aging services director for the Appalachian Council of Governments (ACOG). ACOG improves the lives of the people of the SC Appalachian region through numerous programs. One of those programs? Funding home repairs and modification services for low-income older adults. Rebuild Upstate has repaired the homes of more than 1,250 low-income older adults and funding from ACOG has been critical in delivering those repairs.
We’re so grateful to Tim for sharing his insight on the need for safe, affordable housing for older adults. Read his Q&A:
ACOG supports seniors in a number of ways. In your opinion, why are home repairs and modifications worth investing in?
Our mission at the SC Appalachian Area Agency on Aging is to keep seniors happy and healthy in their homes and communities. Safety is our main focus with minor home repairs/modifications. If a senior cannot easily get in and out of their home, then we need to build them a ramp. If they have trouble getting up and down in their bathroom, then we may need to add grab bars. The same goes for a leaky roof or a soft floor. Their home needs to be a safe haven for them to remain in place.
How do you see housing cost burdens affect older adults?
Seniors are living longer, some into their 80’s, 90’s, and a few until their 100’s. Many outlive their saving accounts and just rely on Social Security. With building costs rising, some seniors would not be able to afford to add a ramp or other costly home repairs.
Tell us about some of the requests for help you get from older adults or their family members.
Other than home repairs, we assist seniors with home delivered meals, home care, yard work, transportation, activities and meals at senior centers, legal services, family caregiver support, Medicare counseling, and general information. We try to keep up with the agencies in each county that provide rental assistance, utility assistance, etc. We do get requests for help with property taxes, pest control, and financial support. While we cannot help with these needs, we do let our legislators know that the need is there.
We know repairs and modifications help caretakers in addition to homeowners, not just physically, but financially. How do you/ACOG experience outcomes beyond direct service repairs?
There are married seniors trying to take care of each other, and family members, neighbors or caregivers trying to take care of those living alone. Ramps are our most requested repair/modification. Without a ramp, it is really hard to move someone in or out of their home. Other repairs make the home safer for anyone living in or visiting the home.
Is there a single homeowner or repair instance that stands out as memorable to you? If so, tell us about it.
Rebuild Upstate has always been a remarkable partner! Even if our funding does not cover a certain repair/modification, Rebuild Upstate tries to find a way to help. What sticks in my mind are those homeowners that we CANNOT help. Rebuild Upstate helps residents in Oconee, Pickens, Anderson and Greenville Counties. In Spartanburg County, where we do NOT have a partner, we had a senior living in a trailer with holes in the floors and the walls. We need community support in ALL of our counties to help those who cannot help themselves. While Rebuild Upstate, and our office, do a great job helping those in need, the need far outweighs our resources.
How have you seen COVID-19 affect older adults and their families regarding home repairs and modifications? Are there any trends? What trends, if any, do you expect to see more of moving forward?
This is NOT COVID-19 related, but our senior population is expanding at a very rapid pace. Seniors around the country have found that the Upstate of South Carolina is a wonderful place to call home. Many of these retirees move here while they have resources of their own. Many times, these seniors outlive their resources. It is up to the community and our agencies to help those seniors who cannot help themselves. Again, we must have that community support…along with legislative support!
Tell us about some of the scams targeting older adults right now. What resources do you all offer to help educate older adults about those?
Seniors are oftentimes scammed through the mail, over the phone, by commercials on television, by their own family members, and now over the internet. We do regular outreach events, sometimes partnering with the Better Business Bureau, to try to warn seniors of scams. We also send out information with home delivered meals to reach those homebound seniors.
How does investing in home repair and modifications for older adults protect generational wealth?
It breaks my heart to ride through neighborhoods and see homes in disrepair and yards overgrown. In most cases, these homes are owned by those who cannot physically take care of their home and yard. They also may not have the resources to pay someone to repair damage or mow their lawn. It is unsafe for a senior to live in these conditions, and it’s an eyesore for the community…sometimes affecting the value of the homes in the same neighborhood.
Why is maintaining independence for older adults in South Carolina important?
It is much cheaper to pay for in-home services for seniors than to move them into a long-term care facility. More importantly, most seniors are happier to stay in their homes. Luckily, most legislators now realize the savings associated with in-home services.
Where can someone go to learn more ACOG and its programs?
Call our office at (864) 242-9733 or log onto our website at www.scacog.org. If you are a senior or a caregiver, we WANT to be there to help!