Elderly struggle with daily home maintenance

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 15, 2001

James Lewis Jr. grew up in the wooden frame house on Williams Street. Now disabled and 66, Lewis said he can no longer climb a ladder to put a fresh coat of paint on the faded house.

And even if he could, his fixed income wouldn’t allow him to purchase the supplies such a job would require.

It’s for those same reasons Lewis said he is not able to move to a place where he wouldn’t have to worry about maintaining his house, but he would have to worry about paying rent.

On the other hand, even if he could, Lewis said he wouldn’t.

Lewis is not alone. A recent study by the American Association of Retired Persons found that 80 percent of older adults want to live out the remainder of their years where they are.

But it’s these same people who are often both physically and financially unable to maintain their houses, said Gretchen Kuechler, assistant city planner.

Kuechler said she often takes calls from residents, many of them elderly or disabled, who are searching for help with their homes.

Requests range from installation of a handicap-accessible ramp to pleas for a new roof.

Because of her involvement outside of her job at City Hall with private, non-profit housing organizations such as the Southern Baptists Conference’s World Changers program and the Adams County chapter of Habitat for Humanity, Kuechler can sometimes find a solution to their need.

But more often, she can only take their name and add it to the growing file of applications for assistance with home repair.

Already this year, Kuechler has taken 24 applications from homeowners with yearly incomes less than $8,000 for housing rehabilitation.

&uot;It’s a need, and who is going to fulfill that need?&uot; Kuechler asked, unsure of the answer herself.

Organizations such as World Changers are limited in what they can do, Kuechler said. The team of high schoolers that has visited Natchez every two years can only take on projects they can tackle in a week.

While Habitat members search for land to build new homes, older homes are being abandoned and causing a real problem, Kuechler said.

But it’s not just about health and safety, the abandoned residences also detract from the neighborhood’s quality of life, not to mention property values Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff said.