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City secures seniors’ heating systems

Program replaces aging boilers before the big freeze

Catherine McGloin
City secures seniors’ heating systems
Mayor Martin Walsh was in Mattapan to see Anita and Glenn McLaughlin’s new boiler, paid for by city funds under DND home improvement scheme. Mayor’s Office Photo by John Wilcox

Mattapan residents Anita and Glenn McLaughlin no longer have to worry about surviving the winter with a 140-year-old heating system, thanks to assistance provided by a little-known Department of Neighborhood Development program.

“She gave us 27 years,” said Anita McLaughlin, 70, who moved into the house with her husband in 1992. “But it was huff and puff going up to the attic on the third floor every time.”

The party assembled at the McLaughlins’ family home gather in the front yard during the morning’s celebration. Mayor’s Office Photo by John Wilcox

The party assembled at the McLaughlins’ family home gather in the front yard during the morning’s celebration. Mayor’s Office Photo by John Wilcox

The whole family took part in the almost daily chore of lugging buckets of water to the attic space where the antique boiler was inconveniently installed in 1878, when the home was built. It first ran on coal, before being converted to oil just before the McLaughlin family moved in.

That all ended when her neighbor, Valerie Burton, introduced Anita McLaughlin to the Seniors Save program, launched by Mayor Martin Walsh’s office and managed through the DND. The program is designed for elderly Bostonians aged 60 and over living in one- to four-family homes to help them upgrade their heating system, ahead of what meteorologists expect will be a particularly cold winter this year.

Walsh was at the property Nov. 28, along with DND Associate Deputy Director Richard O’Brien, project contractors, the McLaughlins and their friends and family, to see the new boiler, congratulate the proud homeowners and promote the program.

“I couldn’t believe it was over 100 years old and it was still working,” Walsh said.

Through the Seniors Save program, successful applicants are awarded a $3,500 grant to pay part of the cost of replacing their heating system. The rest is covered by a zero-percent-interest deferred loan which must be repaid only if the residents sell their home or transfer deeds.

Of the 135 home improvement jobs the DND has completed since the program’s inception a couple of years ago, O’Brien estimated an average cost of $8,000 to $9,000.

Besides age and residency requirements, program eligibility also rests on being up-to-date with property tax, water and sewer bills, as well as earning a household income at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income.

Once seniors submit the one-page application form — intentionally short, said O’Brien, in order to speed the process along and encourage as many people as possible to take advantage of the program — they work alongside DND officials in choosing a contractor for the job.

“The most important part of this is that the homeowner is in control every step of the way,” said O’Brien. “We’re here to help them make an informed decision, we’ll assist them through the application process, we’ll assist them through contractor selection and then we’ll monitor the work along with them and assist them with the payment process.”

O’Brien said the department’s list of contractors is fully vetted and their workmanship is approved.

The problem for many elderly city residents is finding out about the Seniors Save program in the first place. Of the handful of friends and relatives gathered in the McLaughlins’ family home, only a few had heard of this initiative, or any of the others offered by the DND targeted specifically at the elderly, including the Senior Home Repair program that provides interest-free loans for those aged 62 and older for minor home repairs.

Anita McLaughlin herself had never heard of the program until friends helped her connect with O’Brien’s team, after her husband, 68, a working mechanic, misplaced the application form on more than one occasion.

“It amazes us when we talk to seniors who don’t yet know about us, because we feel like we talk to everybody,” said O’Brien. His team has been door-knocking recently to raise awareness and are planning to talk to more senior groups across the city. “Our challenge is to get the word out,” he said, “and we’ll keep trying and we’ll keep funding the program because it looks like we’re going to have a heck of a winter.”

Local weather forecaster Eric Fisher, WBZ’s meteorologist, has predicted that temperatures will plummet, and more snow will fall this winter, as El Niño, a system of climate changes caused by rising ocean temperatures in the western Pacific, wreaks havoc across New England.

“We’ve already had I guess a dozen [heating] emergency calls to 311 and we’re not even in December yet,” O’Brien told the Banner. “We’d much rather do this work during the day, especially a warm day, than in the middle of the night in February, which is so often the case when we get calls to the mayor’s hotline.”

But for now, Anita and Glenn McLaughlin are happy with the home improvements that DND helped fund. The department is also going to assist the family with roof repairs in the coming months.

“We have heat in the kitchen, we have heat in the bathroom. We are grateful,” said Anita McLaughlin. “This is a blessing and if it could help other people, seniors like ourselves, then that will be fine.”

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