Last month, the Baltimore County Department of Aging (BCDA) in Baltimore, Maryland unveiled an innovative new program that could be life-changing for a lot of its citizens. The BCAUSE program, meaning Baltimore County Age-Friendly Upgrades for Seniors, will offer free home repairs and upgrades to qualifying seniors.

The goal of this program is to help elderly people keep their homes safe so that they can continue living in them, and do so safely. A county executive said that it will empower Baltimore County’s residents to “age in their communities with choice, independence, and dignity.”

This program is great news for seniors who don’t want to move out of their homes, as many don’t. The majority of older adults would prefer to age safely in their own home, rather than living with family members, in group homes, or in an assisted living facility. Sadly, though, many older adults can’t afford to keep their homes safe enough for them to live in.

More than half of the homes in the US are in need of repair, and that number is likely higher for seniors who have lived in their homes for a long time. Heating, roofing, plumbing, and wiring, among other things, are all systems that are vital to keeping a home safe to live in. And so free home repair programs can really help older adults take care of these things.

The BCAUSE problem is a collaboration between the BCDA, Civic Works, Rebuilding Together Baltimore, CHAI, and Dundalk Renaissance. It is funded through an $800,000 capital grant from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, as well as from additional funding from Wesley Inc., which has been dedicated to serving seniors since 1868.

Any of the work paid for by this program will be done by one of the aforementioned groups, or an approved contractor. And the scope of the work that can be done is quite broad, making it one of the most inclusive free home repair programs.

Do you need heating repair or a roof replacement? That is necessary for the safety of your home, so it would be covered. Any repair that would be needed to make a house a safe place to live would be included in the program.

These repairs, like roof replacement, don’t always have to just be about keeping a house safe. They can also be about keeping the home functional, because that makes it a safer place to live. This includes repairs like garage door repairs or residential electrical work.

BCAUSE doesn’t just cover repairs, though. It can also provide seniors with home upgrades to help make their home more safe. These can be grab bars, stair lifts, and any other device that a person may need. So unlike some other free home repair programs, this also includes upgrades that contribute to safety.

To be eligible for the program, a person simply needs to be a homeowner in Baltimore County, be 65 or older, and be at or below 50 percent of the median area income. Of course, you also need to be experiencing a home repair issue like residential electrical work. This means that BCAUSE could help a lot of people, and indeed, it is expected to help at least 100 households just in its first year.

If someone qualifies or thinks they might, all they have to do to get started with the program is call the Baltimore County Maryland Access Point at 410-887-2594, which is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A certified specialist will help complete the application over the phone, to determine eligibility.

If found eligible, the BCDA will work with an individual’s care manager and/or occupational therapist to screen their homes. This means determining what hazards and fall risks may be present, and what repairs or upgrades will be necessary to make the home safer. If someone doesn’t have a care manager, they will meet with a BCDA Community Outreach Specialist who will help do the same thing, as well as connect them with other resources that they may need.

This helps each person get a personalized experience, so they can get the repairs and upgrades that they need for their specific homes. It will enable many senior citizens to continue to live comfortably in their own homes, without risking their safety. It is an innovative program that holds the potential to do a lot of good.

If you don’t live in Baltimore County or don’t qualify for the BCAUSE program, you could consider going with conventional home loans, or keep reading to see more free home repair programs that you might benefit from.

Free home repair programs

The first thing you should know when looking for help with something like hiring an AC repair company is that you have two options: grants and loans. Grants are money that you don’t have to pay back, but they are typically reserved for groups with high levels of need, like the elderly, disabled people, and people below a certain income threshold. Loans have to be repaid eventually, but they are more widely available, and can still be very helpful when you need urgent home repairs.

Another thing to consider is that there are a lot of local programs, organizations, and charities that might be able to help you, so this is by no means an exhaustive list. On top of looking at these programs, you should do some research to find out what free home repair programs are available in your area.

The federal government

The federal government has some great free home repair programs, and home loan programs, that can help you hire paving contractors, re-roofing services, and other necessary home repair services.

One of these is the Title 1 Property Improvement Loans backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The loans from this program do not come from HUD themselves. Instead, they incentivize private lenders to provide loans to people in need, so that they can get help. This program offers a max of $25,000 for a single-family home. Look for options for re-roofing services when you get the chance.

To qualify for Title 1 assistance, you must show proof that you can repay the loan through regular monthly payments. You must also have lived in the property for at least 90 days before requesting the loan. These loans can also be available for non-residential buildings.

Another great program is the 203(k) Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance Program. It allows homeowners to borrow up to $35,000 through their mortgage, to help with home repairs and upgrades. It can be used in conjunction with Title 1, and can be used even before moving into a property, unlike Title 1 loans.

To apply for this program, the repairs being done must cost at least $5,000, and the property must mean certain standards of energy efficiency and structure. 203(k) loans can only be used on residential buildings.

Yet another of the federal free home repair programs is the Section 504 Home Repair Program. This program aims to help people with low income get home repairs, so one of the qualification criteria is being below 50% of the median area income. The 504 program offers loans of up to $20,000 to repair, improve, and modernize homes. These loans have low interest and can be repaid over 20 years.

This program doesn’t just provide loans, though. They also provide grants of up to $7,500 to the elderly or disabled people. These grants can be used with the loans, for a combined total of $27,500 in assistance.

In addition to meeting certain income requirements, applicants must live in the home they want to improve and not be able to get credit elsewhere for loans. For grants, applicants must be 62 or older and be unable to pay back a loan for repairs.

Assistance for veterans

If you are a veteran who needs help paying for something like a residential heating replacement or gutter repair, there are federal and local programs that can get you the assistance you need.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (or the VA) offers Rehab and Renovation loans to veterans to help them with necessary home repairs. These loans function similarly to the 203(k) loans, but are designed specifically for veterans. They are capped out at the total estimated value of the home once the improvements are made. Unlike other VA home loans, these loans can only be used for repairs that will improve the home’s function, livability, and/or safety, not for buying a home.

To qualify, you must meet the general VA loan requirements, and be using the home as your primary residence.

For non-federal options for free home repair programs for veterans, there is also Operation Homefront. They provide a variety of services to veterans and active-duty military, as well as their families. They are dedicated to giving these people assistance for their homes, whether that be paying mortgages, making repairs, getting groceries, or any other essential items.

Assistance for seniors

Much like the BCAUSE program, there are ways that seniors can get help with home repairs, designed specifically for them. Home modification loans for elderly and disabled people are not backed by the federal government, but are instead offered at the state and local levels. The National Directory of Home Modification and Repair Resources can help you to find a program that will be right for you.

In general, these programs exist to help with repairs that improve the safety and livability of a home, and nothing else. Qualifications vary from agency to agency, but usually, you have to be over 62-65 years old or meet disability requirements, and/or fall under a certain income threshold.

There is also the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. This group has branches all over the U.S. They use federal money, and sometimes other sources, to help the elderly get loans or grants to repair their homes. Again, these focus on repairs that make a home more safe and livable, not on the home’s design or visual appeal.

Getting help when needed

Baltimore County’s BCAUSE program is an innovative and incredible way to help out its citizens. Unlike many other free home repair programs, it does not require any money to be paid back, and instead solely provides grants. It is estimated to help at least 100 households in its first year alone, and will probably grow beyond that.

Hopefully, the future will see a rise in programs like this, which are designed to help people in need without the expectation of it being paid back. Loans can be helpful, but sometimes still end up causing more issues for the recipients. Grants, on the other hand, are almost universally helpful.

In the meantime, there are some great programs that you can turn to if you need help with home repairs. The federal government offers many options, like the 203(k) loan program which lets you take out a loan through your mortgage, or the Title 1 Property Improvement Loans that offer you more money to help with necessary home repairs.

For veterans and active duty service members, who sometimes need even more help, there are special programs. The VA offers many loan programs, including their Rehab and Renovation loans, which help veterans in need get home repairs. There are also charities like Operation Homefront to cater to this specific group.

For the elderly and disabled, there are programs to help them as well. BCAUSE is one, but only in Baltimore County. There is also the database of Home Modification and Repair Resources, as well as the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

There are also other local and national organizations and charities that can help you get assistance when you need it. Sometimes, you may need to do some research to find out what’s available in your area. You could ask your local church, or ask people you know if they know of any programs.

Lastly, there are some organizations that work across the country, like Rebuilding Together, Volunteers of America, and Habitat for Humanity’s Home Preservation Program. All of these programs are great, and can provide help to those in need. So whatever type of home repair you need help with, there is likely a program out there that can help you.

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