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Seniors can get assistance with repair expenses; Furnace, roof fixes are eligible

By Jane Adler, Special to the Tribune
Chicago Tribune
February 8, 2009
LexisNexis®
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For older homeowners on fixed incomes, the cost of home repairs can be daunting, particularly now, as the economy founders. But programs to help seniors fund repairs are available in both the city and suburbs for those who do their homework and apply.

Christine Ryley got two free porches and a new furnace for her 60-year-old house on Chicago's Southwest Side. The 81-year-old Ryley had taken out a $10,000 loan to buy new siding and gutters for the house. But her daughter, Cheryl Oakdale, found out about a city program that provides free home repairs for seniors. The Emergency Housing Assistance Program is offered by the Department of Community Development, the city's former Department of Housing.

Chicago seniors with an annual income of less than $26,400 ($30,150 for a household of two) can qualify. Renters also can apply as long as the landlord signs off on the improvements. Seniors can apply until March 31 to repair or replace a furnace. Applications for new roofs and porches are taken from April 1 through Oct. 31.

The city contracts with neighborhood agencies to find reliable contractors and to make sure the work is done correctly. Ryley's daughter filled out the paperwork, which includes showing proof of income, ownership of the property and monthly bills.

"I can't believe they gave me all this," said Ryley. "I didn't know they had all this free stuff." The house could still use a new roof, but Ryley reached the program's dollar limit of $15,000 for a single-family home. And besides, she said, "I don't want to be hoggy."

The EHAP program helps about 800 seniors annually, according to Ted Dygus, a spokesman at the city's Department of Community Development. Another city program is Home Repairs for Accessible and Independent Living or H-RAIL. It provides money to improve a home's accessibility.

The program gave Daniel Dunnom, a South Side resident, the money to install a ramp to his home's entrance. Dunnom uses a wheelchair, and his family had been carrying him up the steps and into the house before the ramp was installed. "It's made everything a lot easier," said his son, Daniel R. Dunnom.

Programs such as these offered by the City of Chicago are widely available in the suburbs too. Check with your local Area Agency on Aging for information. Or call your village or town to find out what's available.

AgeOptions, the Area Agency on Aging for suburban Cook County, tracks local programs that offer seniors home repairs and other services. For example, Arlington Heights has a program called Christmas in April. The Village gathers up requests for small household jobs, and then in April, volunteers do the work. Proviso Township has a program that will send someone to replace a handrail or install a grab bar.

"It's a patchwork quilt of services," said Diane Slezak, who heads operations at AgeOptions in Oak Park. She notes that not all services are free -- some require a small contribution. AgeOptions is working to put a database of services on its Web site, suburban-age .org. In the meantime, call 800-699-9043.

AgeOptions also offers a Flexible Senior Service Program. Funds are available for low-income seniors who need help. The program provides money for medical care and supplies, as well as for household items such as ramps.

In the western suburbs, the DuPage Senior Citizens Council has a handyman service for $40 an hour. Twice a year, the group also offers free chore days to participating towns in DuPage County. Volunteers clean up yards. The county also sponsors a free senior home inspection to make sure smoke alarms and doorbells work, and to see if grab bars or other safety devices are needed. For information, call 630-620-0804.

And don't forget your property tax bill. The state and counties have programs to reduce taxes for senior homeowners. Cook County has a Senior Citizen Exemption. The average savings in the North suburbs, for example, is about $226, according to the Cook County Assessor's Office.

The Senior Freeze program allows older homeowners to freeze their property's taxable value. The annual income limit to qualify was raised this year to $55,000. Applications are currently available. The average savings for city homeowners is about $2,800, according to Eric Herman, communications director, Cook County Assessor's Office.

The Long-Time Occupant Homestead Exemption was new last year. Applications will be available in mid-April. Homeowners must have lived in their house for at least 10 years and have an income of no more than $100,000 a year. For homes in the southwest suburbs, the exemption averages about $2,200.

Contact the Cook County Assessor's Office at 312-443-7550, or visit cookcounty assessor.com.

Senior homeowners also can defer their real estate taxes, but applications must be filed by March 1. Contact your county treasurer's office.

To apply

In Chicago, applications for home-repair assistance are taken at the Department of Community Development, 33 N. LaSalle St. Call 311 for more information.

house&homes@tribune.com

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