Nfld. & Labrador

Home is where her heart is, but homeowner with disability needs help to stay there

Moira Magee says she can't get government help for repairs and modifications to her home. An advocate for people with disabilities says it's a familiar story, and it's only going to get more common.

Moira Magee's house needs repairs and changes to make it livable

Moira Magee said she spends most of her time in this room, where the wood stove is located, because it is the warmest room in her house. (Submitted by Moira Magee)

Most people would say they'd like to live independently as long as possible.

Even many older seniors who make the choice to move into a personal care home say that there was no place like their own home.

Moira Magee, a 60-year-old homeowner with a disability, says that's precisely why she's determined to stay in her house in Roddickton-Bide Arm, on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula.

But Magee says she needs government help for repairs and modifications to be able to stay independent, and so far, the assistance is not being made available to her.

"This province is responding abysmally. It disproportionately disadvantages people with disabilities," said Magee.

"I understand now why so many people have dilapidated homes, and we hear these stories about our people who are living in deplorable situations, because I am living in one."

Magee is a 60-year-old homeowner with disabilities that make it hard for her to stay in her house in its current condition. (Submitted by Moira Magee)

Sick and poor

Magee suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has a physical health condition called Raynaud syndrome, which is triggered by cold and stress and affects her circulation and mobility. Magee said the circulation in her feet is sometimes so bad that she loses all feeling in them, and she loses balance or can't stand at all. 

She receives $725 a month from a federal Canada Pension Plan disability benefit, and $29.76 every two weeks in provincial income support that goes directly to make minimum payments on her electricity bill.

Magee said she can't afford to heat her entire house, so she spends most of her time living and sleeping in one area, which has a wood stove.

"I do have other heating sources. I don't have money to pay the hydro. I have absolutely no money in my budget."

The area of her home that Magee is able to occupy with some level of comfort is actually the former furnace room, but it's some distance away from her only functioning toilet.

Magee also has no running water in her kitchen, and there are walls without drywall, after failed attempts to renovate over the years, with the discovery of mould resulting in work being left uncompleted. Her home has wires hanging across living areas in some places.

Magee doesn't have money to finish the necessary work herself.

Magee says she would like to remain independent in her own home and to continue to enjoy this view from her property in Roddickton-Bide Arm. (Submitted by Moira Magee)

Few options

Magee has applied for funding through various government departments and agencies, including the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

The Crown corporation's mandate includes providing loans and grants to homeowners for upgrades to improve energy efficiency or for other needed work, but Magee said the NLHC assistance offered so far hasn't been enough to cover the areas she believes need the most attention, such as electrical improvements.

I'm proud that I own a home.- Moira Magee

Magee said she's been told she should consider giving up her house and entering a personal-care home, an option she says has been explored by the Labrador-Grenfell Regional Health Authority.

But, at age 60, Magee doesn't want to give up her independence.

"I absolutely wouldn't make that decision, because I just believe it is not the right decision for me," said Magee.

"I'm proud that I own a home … and I've done well to keep my home throughout everything that I've been through, and I'm not giving it up."

Magee's house is in need of some work on its exterior and interior. (Submitted by Moira Magee)

Home first

The province's Department of Health and Community Services and Labrador-Grenfell Health have both told CBC that keeping people in their own homes is a priority.

Neither would speak specifically about Magee's situation for privacy reasons.

But, in an emailed statement, they said the provincial government has a "home first" philosophy and that it seeks to find ways to allow people to stay independent for as long as possible.

The funding agencies from which Magee has applied for help — including NLHC and the Department of Immigration, Skills and Labour, which has responsibility for income support — also won't comment on her case.

NLHC provided CBC with information about three different possible funding programs for which Magee may be able to qualify, subject to a home inspection and/or assessment by an occupational therapist: the provincial home repair program (repayable loans of up to $12,500), the home energy savings program (forgivable loan of up to $5,000), and the home modification program (repayable loan of up to $10,000).

Let's do the renovations and give supports.- Craig Reid, disability advocate

In an emailed statement to CBC, the Department of Immigration, Skills and Labour said that it "can make loan payments, within maximum shelter benefit amounts, to Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation (NLHC) on behalf of a person receiving income support if that client is eligible to receive a loan for home repairs through the NLHC provincial home repair program."

Magee said she'd like to see a commitment to lend her money to do the necessary work along with a plan for the Department of Immigration, Skills and Labour to repay the loan over time, in keeping with shelter benefits available to income support recipients.

Magee says incomplete repairs over the years have left areas of her home without drywall and with exposed wires. (Submitted by Moira Magee)

Not uncommon

Craig Reid, a prominent advocate for people with disabilities in N.L., said Magee's story of disability, poverty and housing challenges is all too familiar, although he has no first-hand knowledge of her circumstances.

He said it's the kind of situation about which he hears quite frequently, and Reid believes it's only going to get worse in Newfoundland and Labrador as the province's population continues to increase in age.

"It's going to be happening more and more as people get older and are going to find out their environments are not going to work for them," said Reid.

"There's only so many long-term care homes we could build. There's only so many personal-care homes we can build."

Reid said what's needed is a government strategy that prioritizes new housing construction that's in keeping with universal design principles, so that people can live safely in their homes throughout their lives.

Reid said government financial assistance is needed to help homeowners modify housing that becomes unsuitable as they acquire disabilities of one form or another, whether the impairments are cognitive, sensory or physical.

Craig Reid, an advocate for people with disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador, says stories like Magee's are all too common. (CBC )

Last resort

For people who, like Magee, don't want to enter a personal-care home, Reid said making such a move should be considered a last resort, especially at her age and given the relatively higher expense of maintaining a person in such a facility for the rest of their lives, compared with the one-time cost of repairs or modifications to a person's place of residence.

The rate for a room in a personal-care home in Newfoundland and Labrador is about $2,400 per month.

"I think when you weigh what it costs to have someone every year for 20 years in a personal-care home, and you weigh that against what it's going to cost to do the renovations, that they can live gracefully at home, I think the balance of the scale tips grossly toward, 'Let's do the renovations and give supports,'" said Reid.

Determined

Magee said she'll keep lobbying for the funding she believes ought to be available to her through existing, established government programs.

Just last week, Labrador-Grenfell Health approved an extra $150 per month for her from funding that's sometimes available for people with disabilities who get home support. Magee said she's grateful for that assistance and will use it to buy groceries and to pay for someone to clear snow to her door.

But the larger question that looms for her, in these colder winter months, is how long she will be able to stay in the home she owns if vital repairs and modifications aren't completed.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.

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