Matt Thompson, Comfortably Home Maintenance Technician, in the process of installing a strobe detector. In homes like this one, where someone is unable to hear the sound of a smoke detector, installing a detector that also includes a visual alarm is a potentially lifesaving modification. Contributed photo via Bath Housing

Bath Housing Development Corporation has received a shot in the arm in its efforts to allow residents to more comfortably age in their own homes.

The agency will receive a $150,000 grant via MaineHousing to continue its Comfortably Home program, Bath Housing announced this week.

“We’re so thrilled to be the recipient of a MaineHousing ‘Community Aging in Place’ grant,” Bath Housing Executive Director Debora Keller said in a press release. “This will allow us to serve about 60 homeowners this year.”

According to the release, Keller created Comfortably Home in 2015 when she saw the maintenance challenges facing older homeowners and people with disabilities who wanted to thrive in their own homes.

“We know people want to stay in their own homes as they age, but often their homes present potentially serious health and safety issues,” Keller said.

Comfortably Home has served over 200 homeowners in the Midcoast, providing home modification services to area homeowners in an effort to prevent fewer instances where older residents are injured in falls.

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Home modifications can include the installation of handrails and shower seats, repairing stairs and windows, weatherization and improved lighting.

In a 2019 survey by Age-Friendly Communities of the Lower Kennebec, 60% of respondents expected they will have to modify their homes in order to age in place.

It’s not surprising that many homes in Bath would require modification in order for someone to age in place. According to a 2020 analysis conducted by Levine Planning Strategies, “more than half the housing in Bath was built before 1940.”

“The age of the buildings is not a direct indicator of housing condition, but in general the older a building the more it is in need of repairs and updates,” the report states, noting, “the age and condition of housing in Bath appear to be an issue in looking at the housing market in general. It is likely that existing units need upgrades and perhaps major repairs.”

That report also found that over 1,750 households in Bath struggled to pay for housing in 2019.

According to Bath Housing, increasing the number of people who are able to age in their own homes helps takes the pressure off waiting lists for housing assistance, allowing housing authorities’ limited resources to serve those with the greatest need.

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MaineHousing is now funding the replication of Comfortably Home in 10 regions of the state. HUD is developing a national replication pilot program, thanks to $10 million included in the FY19 HUD appropriations bill, according to Bath Housing’s website.

MaineHousing’s Community Aging in Place Grant began in 2017 to support the replication of Bath Housing’s Comfortably Home. The inaugural funding year provided support for five Public Housing Authorities and has now expanded to 10 PHAs.

Aggregated data from the program show a remarkable decline of 60% in self-reported injurious falls and hospitalizations each year, according to Bath Housing.

“Over the past seven years, we’ve worked with more than 270 homeowners and have seen consistently positive results every single time,” Keller said. “Modifications that may seem minor can have a dramatic positive impact on a person’s ability to thrive in their home.”

Comfortably Home services extend to areas within a 15-mile radius of Bath, including includes Arrowsic, Bath, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Brunswick, Durham, Freeport, Georgetown, Lisbon, Litchfield, Phippsburg, Richmond, Sebasco, Topsham and Woolwich.

To find out if you are eligible for Comfortably Home services, contact Comfortably Home Coordinator Kristen McEvoy at [email protected] or call (207) 295-3317.

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