As another cold New England winter approaches, city officials are urging seniors to take up an opportunity to replace their heating systems while the weather’s still warm.
Richard O’Brien, deputy director of the city’s Boston Home Center and a Dorchester resident, said the “Seniors Save” program helps income-eligible seniors replace heating systems that are failing and inefficient. The program, backed by federal and city funds, offers an $8,000 grant, and, if needed, a zero-interest deferred loan for the remaining balance.
To qualify, applicants must be Boston residents, 60 years or older, and living in an owner-occupied home or condo. The heating system targeted for repair must be at least 12 years old, and the applicant must have an income up to 80 percent of the Boston area median income.
The program also helps seniors pick out a contractor for the work.
A four-page application is available on the city’s website, boston.gov/departments/housing/boston-home-center. People can also call 617-635-HOME for more details, particularly about whether they’re income eligible. O’Brien said seniors, once they’re no longer earning active income aside from Social Security or a small pension, often can meet the low to moderate income guidelines. “We ask that they call and at least check,” he said.
The “Seniors Save” program was set up after the extreme winter weather that hit the region in 2015 and 2018. O’Brien’s team handles the 311 calls for senior home repairs in the city, and while typically it would receive one or two heat-related calls during a cold winter week, the extreme weather that caused temperatures to stay down for days and weeks led to a “cascading failure across the city, which is very hard to address.” His team saw radiators cracking due to the ice built up inside.
But it’s all preventable, he said. Replacing a heating system under extreme weather conditions is dangerous and expensive, and leaves the house vulnerable to the cold. Doing it before the winter months is cheaper, and only takes a few days.
“When you can do that prior to the active heating season, it’s so much easier,” he said “That’s why we’re asking people if they’re interested in the program to apply now.”
“Seniors Save” allows oil-to-gas conversions. If a home has been placed in a trust, the “Seniors Save” team is still willing to have a conversation with the owner(s) about how they can help.
The program was initially geared to handle 50 residential units per year. But over the last two years, they’ve exceeded 100 units per year, and they’re on track to do so again this year. It has in total helped fix heating systems in 350 units, many of them in Dorchester and Mattapan, according to O’Brien.
Beyond the heating system replacement program, the Boston Home Center, which is within the Mayor’s Office of Housing, also offers minor and moderate repair programs. For minor repairs, the agency contracts with four nonprofits who have handymen available to deal with things like a leaky faucet, a torn window screen, or the installation of grab bars in the bathroom, making it easier for a senior to stay in their home.
The moderate repair program focuses on leaking roofs, structurally unsound porches, and interior plumbing leaks.
O’Brien said the “Senior Saves” program focused on the heating system often leads to additional repairs, since its workers notice buckets under the roof or stairs that are coming apart. “We made the terms as favorable as possible so the work can be done before it becomes an emergency,” he said.