November is National Long Term Care Awareness Month, a time designated for seniors to consider assisted or independent living options. However, many people enter their retirement years with the goal of staying in their own home as long as possible. Citizen Potawatomi Nation Housing Department Director M. Scott George knows that leaving a beloved and long-term home and all its memories may not be easy, but the Housing Department focuses on ensuring CPN elders live in safe and healthy homes.
Making homes safer, more efficient
If some elders find maintaining their home takes up more time and money than expected, the CPN Housing Department has options available to help elders more easily enjoy their retirement years.
The elder/disabled home repair program through CPN Housing assists elders with home repairs and modifications as their needs change. The program is available to all age 55 or older low-income Native Americans with priority given to CPN tribal members.
“When somebody sees something that they know is going to need attention, that’s the time to call us,” said George.
Each applicant must meet the 80 percent national median income limit guidelines and must reside within Tribal jurisdiction or surrounding counties. Applicants are required to submit a deed to the property as a mortgage agreement for the number of repair costs that will be recorded. This mortgage is released at the end of the time specified with no expense to the homeowner.
The program assists with handicap accessibility, minor repairs and rehabilitation issues that threaten the safety of the homeowner and the longevity of the home. Cosmetic remodels and/or new appliances are not eligible.
Evaluating current, future needs
The department considers an elder’s needs at the time they apply for services as well as possible future needs. Some approved modifications include widening doorways to accommodate a wheelchair or walker, adding a handicap access ramp to the home’s entry or installing grab bars in the bathroom and shower area.
The department has even replaced roofs, repaired or leveled foundations, and upgraded old windows to a more energy-efficient design.
These services allow the homeowner to stay in their own home as long as possible, George said.
“I say, ‘Let’s fix this because this will keep you here longer,’ or ‘Let’s fix the windows’ and reduce their energy bills. We try to do those things as opposed to just cosmetic repairs,” he said.
George urges senior homeowners to keep their insurance and taxes up to date, which they need to qualify for the assistance and meet some federal housing regulations. If the homeowner let their insurance lapse once the home’s mortgage was paid, either because they did not want to or were unable to continue paying, they may not be eligible for some services.
Elders could qualify for home insurance under the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act of 1996. The act simplified and reorganized the system of providing housing assistance to federally recognized Tribes. AMERIND, the only 100 percent tribally-owned insurance provider, offers a high-risk home insurance pool across the U.S. that tribes may access. Instead of using an insurance company that reviews a homeowner’s credit, the AMERIND pool has nearly flat rates based on the ability to insure the home.
“They’re way more affordable than anything else, so we help (elders) get signed up,” George said.
If the home is not able to be restored, it might be possible for the homeowner to have a modular home built on their property, or they may qualify for a home in one of three elder housing communities.
“The rent (in elder housing) is based on your income. So, it’s not a (financial) burden to them,” George said.
There are three CPN elder housing communities: Father Joe Murphy elder living units, located behind the CPN East Clinic in Shawnee, Oklahoma; Nichol’s elder living units, located in Tecumseh, Oklahoma; and Rossville elder living units, located in Rossville, Kansas.
Advanced planning for necessary repairs is usually required because CPN Housing is funded by federal dollars with strict regulations.
“When they apply, they’ll give us a list of what they think is wrong. (Housing staff) will go out and take pictures of the home and assess what needs to be to be done. They may not have even mentioned the roof, but we might go there and see shingles are gone. We work (toward getting) their home safe and secure,” he said.
However, George understands emergencies happen, and the staff immediately steps up to help.
“We can act quickly if it’s 110 degrees outside and their air conditioning breaks. We can act if their heat goes out in the winter, or if there’s a water leak and it’s just flooded the house,” he said.
Collaborating on senior safety
The Housing Department also collaborates with Title VI and CPN Adult Protective Services. When Title VI or APS visits an elder’s home and sees areas that need repairs, they alert the Housing Department, who follows up to see if they can make the home safer.
“They’re reaching out to these elders and seeing what their needs are. And they can come to us and say, ‘They’re in a tough situation over there. Can you go look at the house?’” George said.
CPN created its own APS Department in 2020, a first for an Oklahoma tribe, and Scott is hopeful he can assist even more seniors as a result.
“It’s going to probably expand what we could provide or how we provide it, not just relying on the need to come to us,” he said.
Ensuring home safety
There are some steps homeowners can take to ensure the long-term health of their home.
“Water is as a home’s worst enemy, whether it’s plumbing or whether it’s drainage around the house,” George said.
Quickly repairing small plumbing leaks prevents major repairs down the road, even something as small as a dripping pipe.
“The tendency is to say, ‘I’ll get to that one of these days.’ But, there could be hundreds of gallons of water running through there in a day if you allow that to keep going,” he said.
Those small drips could eventually cause big damage, ruining flooring or creating mold. Continued exposure to mold can cause a variety of health complications, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms may be relatively mild such as coughing and difficulty breathing. More serious symptoms include worsening of asthma and an increased sensitivity to pneumonia.
George also recommends directing water away from the foundation by keeping gutters clean and ensuring flower beds near the house are not retaining water. Trimming shrubs or trees away from the home’s eaves or roof also keeps moisture out of the home.
Above all, he encourages homeowners to keep a close eye on their homes and act before small problems turn big.
“Once the new wears off your home, you start to notice things that need to be fixed,” George said. “It could be small things, like a door that sticks. The door gets to a point where you don’t use it anymore. People might quit using that door, and now they’ve stacked things up against it. If you can’t use it, let’s fix it. We’re here to address damage-causing problems you have in your home so that we can make sure you stay safe.”
The CPN Housing Department offers a variety of programs to assist in providing decent, safe and sanitary housing to its Tribal members. For more information, contact Housing at 405-273-2833 or visit potawatomi.org/housing.