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Home heating aid for seniors this winter

Grants for energy-efficient systems, home improvements

Jule Pattison-Gordon

With the number of senior citizens in Boston rising and memories of the harsh past winter in mind, the Mayor’s Office has announced a new program to help seniors improve — and ensure — their home’s heating before the snow flies.

Seniors Save offers funding and contractor services for installing energy-efficient heating systems and related improvements in homes of Bostonians age 60 and over. To be eligible for the program, seniors must live in an owner-occupied, 1-4 family home or condo and earn up to 80 percent of the Area Median Income.

Winter preparations

“With a very difficult winter last year and fall fast approaching, we want to make sure our seniors are warm and safe this winter,” said Mayor Walsh in a press release. “Seniors living on fixed incomes may not always be able to afford important improvements to their heating systems.”

“Making sure there’s enough money to heat your home is concerning for a population where many, many people live on a fixed income,” said Emily Shea, commissioner of Elderly Affairs.

During last winter, the department received more than 300 calls from seniors who had lost heat, in addition to more calls for assistance de-icing houses or removing snow that presented a risk of collapsing roofs, said Bob Consalvo, deputy director of the Boston Home Center. The BHC runs the Seniors Save program.

Although the BHC already works with seniors to replace heating systems, the BHC is typically called in only after the system has experienced a “catastrophic” failure, said Consalvo. Seniors Save is instead seeking out potential problems before anything can fail.

“We want to fix their systems before they break,” he said.

More cash in your pocket

The program will replace systems that are 12 years old or older with new, energy-efficient heating systems. The lower costs of running these more-efficient systems will mean more money in seniors’ pockets for other life expenses.

“Boston has a lot of seniors who are aging-in-place. Most who are aging-in-place are cash-poor but house-rich, and that’s in every neighborhood in the city,” said Consalvo. Due to maintenance cost, seniors often put off house fixes.

While the program is open to those in the age bracket who make 80 percent or below of the Area Media Income, it concentrates specifically on those making 60-80 percent AMI. Existing programs serve only those making up to 60 percent AMI, so Consalvo sees the 60-80 percent AMI population as facing a service gap.

Shea agreed on the importance of reaching this group.

“It’s still a population that has trouble meeting their basic needs because of the high costs of living here in the city and in Massachusetts in general,” said Shea. “Having a program go to 80 percent of Area Media Income is really important because it captures more people who may need assistance but may not be eligible for more programs.”

Available funds

Under the program, eligible seniors receive a $3,500 grant and up to $10,000 in additional, zero-interest loans with payment deferred until the senior sells the property, transfers its ownership or does a cash-out refinance. Essentially, the $10,000 is offered free to the seniors as long as they continue to own the house. Free energy audits are also available.

The BHC has a budget of $489,150 for the program for this fiscal year, said Consalvo. Funding amounts for next year will depend on this year’s demand and success.

Installation procedure

Once a home owner enrolls, inspectors pay a visit to assess what work is needed. Once that it determined, the BHC provides and pays for a licensed, insured contractor from the BHC’s pre-approved list.

Seniors will be able to live in their homes while the systems are being replaced, said Consalvo. Should there be a brief period during construction in which there will be no heat, the team would work with the homeowner to ensure they are safe and warm, he said.

Get Enrolled

Applications to Seniors Save are due October 31 and are available from http://dnd.cityofboston.gov/#page/seniors_save or by calling call Boston Home Center at 617-635-HOME (4663).

Growing need

An estimated 4,000 low-income elderly homeowners struggle with the cost of home maintenance, utilities and taxes. The majority of the 22,500 new senior households expected to be added to Boston between 2010-2030 will have incomes below $50,000, according to a Boston 2030 report issued in Fall 2014.

Shea said that seniors have expressed excitement about the program.

“Since is [the program] has been announced, there’s been great interest,” said Consalvo. He said many completed applications already have been submitted.