Senior home repairs build better health, strengthen communityResilient Neighborhoods Feature

Elderly residents shouldn’t have to worry about falling off of their front porches.

Fewer will, thanks to a home repair program managed by Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance.

The organization’s long-time housing repair program received a boost through a recent grant that helps seniors stay safe in their homes. Grant funds will allow the agency to undertake major and minor repairs for 32 homes in the west-Detroit neighborhood.

For Cody Rouge resident Chris Bond, 80, the agency’s help meant a dry basement after a plumbing backup in January, something she couldn't afford to fix herself.

Several years ago, the agency fixed the front porches of Bond and a handful of her neighbors. Those safer front porches now serve as gathering spots, strengthening the neighborhood ties that contribute to stronger families.

With one in five of its residents aged 55 or older ― and many of those older residents raising grandchildren on a fixed income ― Cody Rouge has to pay attention to the safety of its seniors, says Kenyetta Campbell, executive director of Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance.

Outdated furnaces, rotting roofs, iffy hot water tanks, drafty windows and unsafe front porches pose health hazards for the elderly, who often don’t have the means to fix those problems themselves. Investments in home repairs that allow senior residents to age safely in their homes trickle into the whole community, providing stability for younger generations who rely on its oldest members, Campbell says.

As for the seniors receiving the help, not only do they have a physical burden lifted, “It’s making life less stressful knowing somebody cares,” she says. “That’s what a community is supposed to do.”

‘We need help.’

Square 1940s bungalows line Cody Rouge streets in tidy rows, many showing signs of wear and tear. Sagging siding here and missing front steps there evidence the structural and internal weakening threatening the health of the residents inside.

Bond painted her kitchen herself, she says, “when I was much, much younger.” 

Many needed repairs are beyond the abilities or financial means of older residents who can’t fix aging furnaces or pay roofers to patch leaks on limited incomes.
“We really, really need help,” Bond says.

Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance has worked for years to provide that help to keep seniors safe in their homes. In addition to serving as a central intake center for seniors applying for Detroit’s no-interest home repair loans, the agency arranges for contractors to perform home repairs for elderly Cody Rouge residents.

Mostly, until now, repairs have focused on furnaces and front porches. In 2023, the agency was named a recipient of one of 12 grants to Michigan organizations from the Thome Aging Well Program from Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit seeking to increase affordable housing.

The grant will fund up to $15,000 in repairs for each of 16 Cody Rouge homes. The agency hopes to complete projects in eight houses this year and another eight in 2025.

Participation in training offered in conjunction with the grant earned the agency additional funding for $2,500 in repairs for each of 16 more houses. The financial help means repairs will expand beyond the front porches that have been the agency’s primary target.

“It’s allowed us to have options, now,” Campbell says, acknowledging, even as she ticks off the repairs she hopes to engineer in the neighborhood, that the agency won't be able to say yes to all the requests for assistance she expects to receive.

A solid foundation

A consultant provided by Enterprise as a part of the grant shared data about the top health factors impacting Cody Rouge residents and helped orchestrate a survey of area seniors.

The survey linked health concerns to specific problems in older residents’ homes, “which is really deep,” Campbell says. “You never think about it like that.”

Survey respondents said they need roof repairs most, but they also worried about leaks, faulty major appliances, crumbling substructure, and cosmetic blemishes that would keep them from selling their homes. Some repair requests fell outside the agency’s purview. “We can’t remodel bathrooms,” Campbell says wistfully.

To promote the most effective use of the grant money, Enterprise pointed the agency to home repairs that address specific senior health needs. Respiratory illnesses prevalent among local seniors mean mold and mildew mitigation should be a priority, for example.

Additions to a home can address health needs, too. Residents with limited mobility need upgrades like new handrails and grab bars. High blood pressure can come down a little with the installation of outdoor motion lighting that reduces the fear of entering a home at night, Campbell says.

The whole neighborhood benefits from safer senior homes, many of which house several generations. In Cody Rouge, which boasts one of the largest populations of school-age children in the city, grandparents often help raise their grandchildren. When those older residents can safely stay in their homes, they can provide a more solid foundation that could impact their grandchildren’s long-term trajectory.

Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance’s programs that help seniors pay their utility bills, teach them replastering techniques and other repairs they can do themselves, or provide needed cleaning supplies connect directly with the agency’s primary mission of helping children.

“In order to impact kids,” Campbell says, “you have to impact families.”

‘I love my home.’

Repairs to wonky porches, leaky roofs, and other problem spots mean long-timers like Bond, who has lived in the same house for 40 years, can safely stay put.

“I love my home,” Bond says. “And I don’t want to leave it.”

She encourages neighbors to attend monthly block club meetings, where they can learn tips to maintain and improve their homes. Some neighbors pooh-pooh the idea of a home-repair program, but, when work starts at one home, those reluctant folks eventually wander over and want to learn more, Bond says.

The repaired front porches on her block, with their sturdy steps and dependable railings, become what front porches are supposed to be ― community centers, where kids romp on the steps and neighbors “just sit there and chit-chat for a while,” she says.

Ongoing repair projects and the promise of more to come, along with computer classes for seniors, intergenerational community dinners, groups coming in to help with cleanup days, and children keeping the area vibrant, keep Bond optimistic about the community she has called home for four decades.

“Things are happening here,” Bond says proudly. “And more things are going to happen in this neighborhood.”

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series examining how Detroit residents and community development organizations work together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from The Kresge Foundation
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