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Home, safe home: Handyworker program

Handyworker program at SCV Senior Center offers assistance to low-income homeowners

Posted: October 4, 2009 9:38 p.m.
Updated: October 5, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center Handyworker program leader Frank Pascoe, left, chats with Jennifer Duke and Errol Adams recently as handymen work on their new porch. The Handyworker program helps low-income homeowners with repair projects.

 
The stairs were becoming a problem for Jennifer Duke and her husband Errol Adams. Too steep for her multiple sclerosis, the shaky railing unsafe for his cognitive disability.

Duke looked out her front window with a smile as she watched the crew of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center Handyworker program demolish the stairs that lead to their Canyon Country mobile home. Within days, new steps would be in place.

"It means a lot to be able to move forward, to have solid, sturdy steps so I won't fall," Duke said. "Errol used to be able to do these kinds of repairs, but he can't anymore and we're on a limited income."

Duke's steps were just one of approximately 110 home repair projects handled annually by the Handyworker Program, which employs four crew members and housing rehabilitation director Frank Pascoe.

The program's criteria states that applicants must be homeowners and have an income of less than 80 percent of the median for the Santa Clarita Valley. That translates to $44,400 for one person and $50,750 for two.

While Pascoe estimated that 70 percent of applicants are seniors, the program is open to all who meet the monetary criteria; disabled and single-parent households generally make up the remaining 30 percent.

"We focus on health and safety issues, cosmetics are not a big thing with us. We're not in the remodel business," Pascoe said. "We repair and replace what's broken."

Funded by federal grants, each project is capped at approximately $2,000. The Handyworker Program is currently awaiting funds promised by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for its next fiscal year.

"This will allow us to help more people or do more projects on the same house," Pascoe said.

Pascoe, a former general contractor who's been leading the Handyworker Program for more than 17 years, reviews applications and follows up with homeowners to make sure the proper proof of home ownership and income is in place.

Once the project is approved, Pascoe likes to get started as soon as possible, often within weeks of the application process.

Sometimes a project can be more involved than originally anticipated. Duke's stairs, for example, led to a reconstruction of the couple's entire deck because the frame's wood was rotting.

"We can't ignore that," Pascoe said. "Stairs and decking sound easy, but it's a little complicated. It's not too bad. I've seen worse. It'll take about a week of work for us to build it, paint it and have it ready for use."

Before the new deck was approved, the Handyworker program crew consulted Duke.

"They were very intuitive. They asked me to walk up the stairs so they could see what I needed," Duke said. "These guys are so efficient and so accommodating."

According to Brad Berens, director of the SCV Senior Center, the Handyworker Program is uniquely suited for projects of this type.

"Our crew joined with the University of Southern California School of Gerontology, so we became experts for improving the homes of the elderly or those with disabilities. These repairs allow homeowners to stay independent because we can develop and adapt to their special needs," Berens said.

Beyond the safety and disability issues, the goals of the Handyworker Program are to act as a preventative for community blight and help keep people in their homes, as Pascoe illustrated.

"On a personal level, if seniors are allowed to stay in their home rather than going to a retirement or nursing center, it's a good thing," he said. "We do these repairs so people can enjoy their homes and stay a part of their families as long as possible."

That's music to Duke's ears.

"They asked me if I wanted a ramp instead of stairs, but I'm not ready for that yet," she said. "When I am, I'll know who to call."

For more information on the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center Handyworker Program, call (661) 259-9444 or visit www.scvsc.org.

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