Many of these residents are seniors who purchased their homes and paid off their mortgages many years ago, said Charles Cloutman, vice president for home repair at Meals on Wheels Central Texas, one of a handful of local nonprofits that provide home repair services in the city of Austin.
“The idea of a low-income homeowner, those two words don’t get together in Austin,” Cloutman said.
Meals on Wheels Central Texas is a nonprofit that provides daily meals to low-income seniors and people with disabilities. For 10 years, it has also offered a home repair program that serves around 200 seniors annually across 14 counties in Central Austin.
“It’s the same problem no matter where you go—the poor just getting poorer,” Cloutman said. “In Travis County, it’s worse. The taxes just keep getting higher.”
Many seniors’ homes are in serious disrepair and have been neglected for years because their owners cannot afford to fix them up, Cloutman said.
Because of the 2018 bond funding, however, Cloutman said Meals on Wheels was able to negotiate with the city of Austin this year to increase its maximum home repair funding grant from $15,000 to $20,000, which is closer to the average amount the local nonprofit spends per home.
Typical repairs include replacing a roof or retrofitting a home to be accessible for wheelchair use. Because they are repairs, rather than renovations, they do not drive up the property value, further burdening the homeowner.
“We’re making their house no longer their enemy, but their friend,” Cloutman said.
Helping seniors age in place is core to Meal on Wheels’ mission as well as to the city’s age-friendly plan.
“We do this obviously for the person’s sake but also for the ripple effects,” Cloutman said. “That [home] repair actually stabilizes the neighborhood.”
When seniors are able to stay in their homes, they maintain their social networks, whether through their church community, neighbors or a familiar grocery store. It also helps delay gentrification when senior residents—often the only low-income homeowners in a given area—are able to stay put.
Meals on Wheels is one of a handful of nonprofits offering home repair services to low-income residents in Austin, but Cloutman said the need far exceeds the resources available.
The Austin-Round Rock metro is home to the country’s second-fastest growing population of adults age 65 and older, as well as the fastest-growing population of adults between 55 and 64 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“There’s no silver bullet,” Cloutman said. “But we have to reach out and help these people.”