By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal MARCH 30, 2015
EDMONTON - The provincial government has axed a $6-million program that provided home repair grants for thousands of seniors, and replaced it with a deferred home equity loan program that could benefit hundreds of thousands.
Last year, the Special Needs Assistance for Seniors program provided roughly 7,500 low-income seniors with grants averaging $1,000 each.
The money went to pay for everything from new water heaters to new roofs; often, homeowners had to raise their own funds to cover the cost above the grant amount.
The new program — which has not yet been named — will be open to all Alberta seniors who own their homes. Through government, they will be able to obtain a low-interest home repair loan with no payments until the home is sold.
“This is about the desire to help seniors be independent and stay in their home as long as possible,” Seniors Minister Jeff Johnson said of the new program, which was announced in the spring budget last week.
“There are 300,000 seniors that own their own homes, and this (old) program was only helping 7,500. We asked what we could do to reach more.”
Johnson said the new program will allow seniors to obtain deferred loans for the entire cost of a repair, not just part of the cost. The minister will still have the power to offer grants — which do not have to be repaid — in rare emergencies.
Johnson said the program is expected to ease demand for continuing care beds by helping seniors stay at home longer.
The program will be modelled after the 2012 Seniors Property Tax Deferral Act, which allows seniors with 25-per-cent equity in their homes to enter into an agreement with government to pay their property taxes until the home is sold.
The interest rate has not yet been fixed, but Johnson said it will be low. The program will not make money for the government, but interest will go to pay the cost of operating the program.
The repair loan, like the tax bill, will be entered as a lien on the property, and will be repaid with interest only when the home is sold.
The province expects to introduce the program in July.
Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta said “cutting a grant program in favour of a loan program is not actually helping the seniors who need it most.
“It’s deferred, but you still have to pay it all back…They’re making it easier for seniors to go into debt to fix their homes, but let’s not kid ourselves, they’re not putting any money into supporting these low-income seniors, at the end of the day.”