Healthier Together: A closer look at ‘aging in place’

Habitat for Humanity’s most famous task is, in many cases, building homes from the ground up.

But the group does a lot more than just that. Habitat for Humanity has worked to keep people in their homes for years.

It’s called ‘aging in place,’ and it helps veterans and/or people 60 and older stay in their homes.

KIRO 7s Ranji Sinha took a look at the program at Habitat for Humanity in Pierce County to see how it works.

At a home in Spanaway, our KIRO 7 crew encountered a build that was not quite the usual Habitat for Humanity build that people are used to.

James Patterson, the homeowner in Spanaway, had to admit that the rebuild of certain parts of his home was a marked improvement.

“It’s excellent. It’s better than it was before,” Patterson said.

The work by Habitat for Humanity in Pierce County is work on a house, but it’s just not building a home from scratch.

It is in keeping with Habitat’s mission to ensure people stay housed, not building from the ground up, but improving.

In this case of Patterson’s home, from the top down, starting with his roof and working on other aspects of his home that had fallen into disrepair or were creating risks.

It’s something he welcomed.

“It’s great that this program, that there are projects like this to help people out,” Patterson said.

Peter Liljengren and his crew from Habitat for Humanity got to work, making Patterson’s home more livable.

It’s his mission for the housing group renowned for home building, but in this case home rebuilding.

”If they can stay in their home and if that’s a good decision for them to stay in their home, then we make the repairs that will enable them to do that,” Patterson said.

The program is called ‘Aging in Place,’ a somewhat new mission for Tacoma-Pierce County Habitat for Humanity.

The group has partnered with Pierce County Human Services as a contractor and has provided home modifications for Medicaid clients since late 2019.

To date, 82 households have been served through this partnership.

Monique Lawson says her Tacoma home got a ramp for her wheelchair-bound brother.

“Would you have been able to do that on your own? Oh no, I would not have, Habitat, they have been the greatest, just the best,” Lawson said.

She said the ramp transformed their lives, and the work took a few hours.

“They (HFH) had one guy, a couple of guys. We didn’t even know that they were HFH when they came out and finding that out after the fact i was, like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s really awesome,’” Lawson said.

Peter Liljengren admits he hasn’t worked a full traditional ground-up HFH build in years, and says the work improving or rebuilding homes is rewarding in a different way.

”I get to know the people that I’m working for. They’re in the house... they asked if I was interested in working on those projects. I started with them and slowly it built up so that now that’s all I do,” Liljengren said.

He says some jobs take hours, others days, maybe weeks.

The goals for HFH are the same: keep people in homes no matter the hardship and a place to age in peace.

For Patterson, the work will do just that.

“My house needed a couple of repairs which they came in and did really appreciate that,” Patterson said.

For Monique Lawson, the program will guarantee a better standard of care for her brother, since she admits she never would have been able to pay out of pocket for her wheelchair ramp.

“It’s just a great asset to have them,” Lawson said.

As for Peter Liljengren, he anticipates doing the remodeling and renovation work for years to come.

In fact, he suspects that HFH in Pierce County may need to bring on more full time people to deal with the Aging in Place builds.

He could soon be overseeing more employees as well as all the volunteers that work in the program.

“Certainly, the need is out there,” Liljengren said.

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