Habitat for Humanity, the international nonprofit known for helping people in need get into new homes of their own, in many cases also helps people remain in their existing homes when home modifications are necessary to make that possible. As people age, such modifications are often needed to accommodate the older adult’s changing circumstances.

Habitat appropriately calls this added service its “Aging in Place” program, designed to help low-income seniors age at home and in communities of their choice. “Our local Habitat affiliates collaborate with human services organizations to evaluate individual needs,” Habitat says, “and provide critical home repairs, modifications and community services specific to each homeowner’s lifestyle to preserve their home and their independence.”

Habitat for Humanity in Colorado reports having 25 affiliates across the state. Each affiliate’s approach to Aging in Place may differ from that of another, so anyone interested in aging-related home modifications should contact the nearest affiliate. Find those affiliates at https://habitatcolorado.org/.

Addressing Colorado’s Aging Population and Home Modifications

Habitat says there’s a great need for its work. “Older Americans are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country,” Habitat notes, “[and] by 2030, 20% of the U.S. population will be 65 or older.” Habitat says more than 19 million older adults in the U.S. are living in homes that are in disrepair or ill-equipped to safely meet their needs. Colorado itself has the nation’s second-fastest growing population aged 65 and older.

“We know that aging in place extends longevity and quality of life,” says Habitat, “and safe and stable housing and community networks are core to these outcomes. Surveys of homeowners that partner with us show they’re mentally and physically healthier, feel safer at home, and engage with their family and friends more. Safe and accessible housing is a key social determinant of health.”

Habitat sees itself as working at the intersection of housing, human services, and health. The organization has also innovated its “Housing Plus” model, described as a range of person-centered, holistic approaches that starts with the older adult’s needs, then builds out a solution that incorporates not only home repairs and modifications, but also community-based support services and resources as well. “By looking at a full network of resources in addition to offering repairs and modifications,” Habitat explains, “[this] helps tailor a holistic approach for each homeowner so they can safely and securely remain in their homes as they age.”

How Colorado Habitat’s Aging in Place Programs Work

The process to explore Habitat’s Aging in Place services begins with three basic steps.

  1. You would identify your local Habitat affiliate and contact them directly about what Aging in Place programs they might have in your area. Use the Colorado Habitat weblink mentioned above (https://habitatcolorado.org/) or this national search link: search for your local Habitat.
  • An initial assessment is completed by a health or human services professional. This focuses on listening and learning about the homeowner’s needs and activities of daily living, such as how they pay bills, clean their homes, handle meals, communicate with others, run errands and shop. “Our local affiliates partner with community-based social organizations to provide a range of support to older homeowners,” Habitat notes. Such social services might include helping older adults with grocery shopping, bringing prepared meals, providing transportation for doctor visits, walking a dog, and running errands. Older residents also might need additional community resources and be referred to their Area Agencies on Aging. 

  • A second assessment follows which includes a home repair evaluation by a Habitat construction specialist. This enables the affiliate to provide modifications specific to each homeowner’s lifestyle. These modifications may be doneboth inside and outside the homes, although some affiliates only do outside repairs and some only do interior repairs. These may include installing lever door handles, raised toilets, safety bars, improved lighting, floor repairs, walk-in shower, and energy-efficiency projects. Outside repairs might include ramps at entrances, a new roof, new siding and paint, porch repairs, and others. “There are many risks for injury to older adults and older adults with disabilities in the common household,” Habitat says. “These have a big impact on their capability to successfully age in place.” Habitat customizes home repairs and modificationsbased on individual needs.

Factors to qualify for Colorado’s Habitat Aging in Place Program

Age and income qualifications for Aging in Place services are determined by the local Habitat affiliates, and these can vary. Habitat says it generally seeks to partner with those who are considered low-income, and the age for receiving Aging in Place services is typically early- to mid-60s and older. Your local Habitat affiliate will have more specifics on these age and income qualifications.

Advancing both housing and health equity is central to Habitat’s work, and the nonprofit does this by pairing home repairs with the expertise and assistance of health care and human services professionals. This integrated housing and health support is key to improving the quality of life of older residents. “Our evidence-based Aging in Place solutions increase independent living, reduce symptoms of depression and improve motivation,” says Habitat, “leading to reduced medical costs while also lessening the burden on caretakers and families.”

Colorado’s Denver Metro Habitat Selected for Grant Study

Habitat has incorporated an evidence-based model known as CAPABLE, developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, to support aging in place services for low-income adults. CAPABLE— Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders—combines occupational and physical therapy with home repair and modification services. Habitat says it has proven to “increase community-

dwelling older adults’ mobility, functionality, and capacity to age in place.”

CAPABLE includes 10 home visits by trained occupational therapists and registered nurses, an interprofessional team that works with the older adult to identify their goals and determine an action plan. The team uses motivational interviewing techniques and active empathetic listening to recognize the participant’s strengths and help identify solutions to problems they perceive relative to activities of daily living, emotional and physical health, and home environment. This helps identify more accurately what kinds of home modifications will meet the older adult’s needs.

CAPABLE easily dovetailed with Habitat’s Aging in Place program. In fact, Habitat received a $1.25 million grant from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation in 2018 for implementing the CAPABLE program. Five Habitat affiliate sites were approved for the project, one being Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver. Each affiliate site determined how to offer CAPABLE as part of the organization’s “Aging in Place” services.

How effective the CAPABLE/Habitat combo has been in Colorado and elsewhere

A summary report on the grant effort’s outcomes stated, “These five affiliates were able to augment the typical CAPABLE budget cap for home repairs and modifications (usually about $1,300) so that Habitat could offer more extensive critical home repairs for individuals needing this.” Examples of such modifications that were made possible were replacing flooring, providing a new furnace or roof, or renovating a kitchen or bathroom to make it accessible.

“It was a part of Habitat Metro Denver’s strategic plan to do aging-in-place work,” the report noted, “and the partnership provided an opportunity to create evidence-based programming. Habitat Metro Denver [also] partnered on an initial application to the Kaiser Permanente Foundation for grant funding to pilot CAPABLE. Habitat Metro Denver was the handy worker partner on that award and the CAPABLE program has been growing since then.”

The national Habitat office says, “Data shows that Habitat’s implementation of CAPABLE improves participants’ mental and physical health and helps both clients and health care services save on costs, all while empowering older adults to age in the communities of their choice.” 

Habitat goes on to note that CAPABLE has been shown to save money, partly due to fewer emergency room visits and improved physical and mental health. This in turn lessens the burden on emergency health systems. One study showed the average savings for a CAPABLE participant was about $22,000, as compared to various costs likely to have been incurred without the benefit of CAPABLE intervention.

Backing up such savings, the Johns Hopkins team also developed a report on the five communities where Habitat implemented the CAPABLE model, Denver Metro being one. The Hopkins report said older adults could more easily complete their daily tasks, more safely and easily leave their homes to greet their neighbors and engage with their community. Their risk of falls also markedly dropped, and their depressive symptoms lessened.

As mentioned earlier in this article, any Coloradan interested in Habitat’s Aging in Place home modifications can begin by contacting the nearest affiliate. You can find these affiliates at https://habitatcolorado.org/.