December 12, 2022

More help needed to fix homes for older Indianapolis residents


Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine (left) volunteers at the home of Paula Stevens (right). - Jill Sheridan/WFYI

Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine (left) volunteers at the home of Paula Stevens (right).

Jill Sheridan/WFYI

At a tidy 1940s stone ranch home in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood volunteers are busy.  They haul wood, roofing and other remnants of an old garage falling down in Paula Stevens' backyard.

Stevens has lived here for decades.

“Today I'm 76 and on Wednesday I'll be 77, it is my birthday,” Stevens said.

She's on a fixed income, and every year it gets harder to take care of home repairs.

“I want to stay here as long as I can, God allows, yeah,” Stevens said, “but like I said, just limited income now and there's still work that needs to be done.”

Often, that work falls to small nonprofit groups.  NeighborLink Executive Director Rachel Nelson said on this day of the group's annual fix-a-thon event, they are out tackling a number of houses – cleaning out gutters, or replacing windows.

But with limited resources for Nelson’s group, seniors with more expensive fixes may have to wait. Stevens had to wait five years for her garage demolition.

“It was a dilapidated building, a lot of safety issues around getting that out, getting that cleared out. That was close to a $10,000 estimate,” Nelson said. “Obviously that is not even feasible for someone living on Social Security. Most of the homeowners that we work with on average are at about $1200 a month.”

Stevens’ home is right down the road from Frederick Douglass Park and other redevelopment projects influencing this quickly changing neighborhood. It was at the park where she first heard about NeighborLink from a friend.

Nelson said word of mouth is common.

“They don't have a good route to Google searching for, you know, how to get my house funded. So they're really at the mercy of who shares information with them,” Nelson said.

Residents can also find assistance for home repairs through local community development corporations or private programs.

The more than 20 volunteers in her backyard make quick work of the garage demolition.

Among those helping is Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine. She said the work can be like healthcare: preventative.

“That's why this is such a powerful relationship between the Marion County Public Health Department and NeighborLink because they help to identify those folks who have citations, but they don't have the resources to do the repair,” Caine said.

NeighborLink serves lower income adults over 62, helping them to stay in their homes.

While Stevens did not receive a health department citation, she could have – the structure was unsafe. Nelson said they’ve noted an increase in citations in some of the city's gentrifying neighborhoods.

“There are definitely pockets that will notice an increase and those happen to be the pockets where there's new people moving in or there are developers with interest in that area,” Nelson said.

Volunteers find a box of old pictures that Paula sorts through. It includes photos of her daughter’s prom.

Paula bought this house with her ex-husband in the '80s and raised two children here. Nelson said for many clients, the home is the biggest asset.

“The fact that so many of our homeowners have inherited their homes from grandparents or intend on giving their home to a future generation,” Nelson said, “it's extremely important for us to be able to help the stability of the neighborhood with those core families.”

The changes rolling through this neighborhood can be seen in homes up and down the street. Stevens loves to see the revitalization but a certain amount of stress comes with it.

“Yes, because they're talking about well with inflation and then property tax going up. And I said keep, you know, adding and it makes it difficult to try. Thank goodness so far I'm able, you know, but still it's difficult and I don't like that,” Stevens said.

Caine said the answer is continued cooperation and added focus to avoid the displacement of senior residents. 

“We need we need more dollars, we need more resources, we need to really empower organizations like NeighborLink we need to increase their staff we provide more resources. Look we've got over 100 volunteers that were here today how many homes are we going to touch today,” Caine said.

On the annual fix-a-thon day for NeighborLink the homes of 24 seniors received repairs.

Contact WFYI city government and policy reporter Jill Sheridan at jsheridan@wfyi.org

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