A loan program giving seniors the flexibility to put money into home repairs wherever they’re needed has given hundreds the chance to remain in their home, safely and independently.

“The Seniors Home Adaptation and Repair Program was designed to strengthen supports already in place to help senior home owners remain safe in their homes,” explained Kirsten Ganske, director of seniors financial programs with the Alberta government.

Known as SHARP, the provincial program places virtually no limitation on possible home repairs.

“Shingling the house or doing walk-in renovations for a bathroom,” she suggested. “Anything that is reasonable to maintain independence in their home.”

Launched in July 2016, SHARP goes beyond an older Alberta loan program, the special needs assistance for seniors program, which is more restrictive in what it covers.

“Not all home repairs were within that program’s scope,” explained Ganske. “Things like foundations, windows, or exterior repairs.”

The vision for SHARP was to allow seniors to use their home equity to get a loan. It’s also to improve accessibility, mobility, and the energy efficiency of their homes. Project examples include furnace and hot water tank upgrades, widening of doorways, or stair lifts.

SHARP applicants must be at least 65, with a household income of less than $75,000 per year. | Pixabay

It’s been very successful, said Ganske.

“From an analysis of the first year, about 70 per cent of people who applied got a loan. Of the 30 per cent of those who didn’t qualify for a loan, about 60 per cent got a grant,” she said. “We were able to cover 99 per cent of the client’s requests.”

Another big change from the special needs program is the allowed maximum. What was capped at $950 per year is now a maximum of $40,000. And the loan can be extended over a period of time.

The reason behind the change is to help seniors for quite a long time and so they can get a number of things done.

“Most seniors are using only a portion of that [possible] $40,000,” she said. “It gives them a lot of flexibility to remain in their home.”

To be eligible, the home must be a primary residence and clients must be at least 65 years old. The household income cannot be over $75,000 to ensure resources are going to people who are less likely to get a loan, said Ganske.

“It’s not for rental property or a summer home, and they must have at least 25 per cent equity ownership,” she said. “That helps secure the loan so it can be repaid.”

Successful applicants can pay back the loan whenever they like, but when the home is no longer a primary residence or they sell, it becomes due.

“They should have the money to pay the loan, because they’re selling the home,” explained Ganske, noting repayment is based on simple interest.

Because the requirement for home ownership will leave some clients without access, the grant that was under the special needs program has been moved under the SHARP grant program.

“So for a mobile home owner, for example, the grant looks like it did under the special needs assistance program, to a maximum of $5,000,” explained Ganske.

Staff will contact every applicant and help them through the entire process.  

To find out more, visit www.seniors-housing.alberta.ca/seniors, call Alberta Supports Contact Centre in the Edmonton area at 780.644.9992, or call toll free at 1.877.644.9992.

Featured Image: The loan must be repaid when the house is sold or when the house is no longer a primary residence. | Pixabay