Five Tips for Senior and Disabled LGBTQ+ Homeowners
by Sofia Colosimo August 30, 2021
Sofia Colosimo is a project coordinator for the Homeowner Stability and LGBT Advocacy Projects.
Generations of LGBTQ+ people have flocked to New York City from around the world in search of community and the freedom to live openly, joining our great city’s native born queer+ residents. The city is home to the largest LGBTQ+ community in the country, as many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people moved to NYC in their youth and decided to make it their home for life. Through years of fighting for equal rights under the law, many people found love, friends, and connection. Some bought or inherited homes and started their own chosen families. Now, as many LGBTQ+ New York homeowners enter their golden years or face challenges due to a disability, they face a unique set of issues.
In celebration of National Coming Out Day, the City Bar Justice Center’s Homeowner Stability Project is hosting a free legal clinic for LGBTQ+ homeowners who are seniors or living with a disability. If you own or inherited a 1-4 family home, condo or coop located in New York City, you are invited to meet with a skilled volunteer attorney to assess threats to your, housing, help with budgeting and housing expenses, and prepare simple legal documents like a power of attorney and healthcare proxy. Join us on Friday, October 15th from 1 pm to 5pm at the New York City Bar Association office located in midtown Manhattan. Call 212-382-4752 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your spot.
Whether or not you can come to our clinic, if you are an LGBTQ+ New York City homeowner who is elderly or living with a disability, here are some steps you can take to help keep your home affordable and safe:
1. Maximize your income and benefits
- Review any retirement and disability benefits provided through the Social Security Administration and ensure you are receiving all income to which you are entitled. People living with HIV/AIDS or another disability may qualify for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There may some additional benefits available through the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) such as SNAP and heating assistance. If you are unsure of what benefits and services you are entitled to, social work support and other extensive senior services are available through Jewish Association Serving the Aging (JASA). Call 212-273-5272 or email email@example.com to connect with a social worker. If you or a loved one is living with HIV/AIDS, the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) through HRA provides intensive case management and assistance in applying for public benefits and services. For more information, contact the HASA ServiceLine at 212-971-0626.
- Many senior homeowners supplement their income by renting out a spare room or any additional unit in their home. These “home share” arrangements offer stable monthly income and can even be a source of companionship for seniors who struggle with isolation. If you are interested in a home share, starting the process may be as simple as networking with your friends or posting a flyer at your local community center or at the LGBT Community Center. The New York Foundation for Senior Citizens (NYFSC) also offers a free Home Sharing Program [https://www.nyfsc.org/home-sharing/] to match adult “hosts” with appropriate adult “guests” to share their space. One of the matchmates must be age 60 or older. For more information, call the NYFSC at (212) 962-7559.
2. Apply for home repair grants and other low-cost services
- Homes, just like their owners, grow older and may require special attention for repairs and updates. Extreme weather events or just general wear and tear can lead to structural damage, leaks, and safety hazards. It is important to address problems that need repair or have created an unsafe living environment quickly to keep inhabitants safe and preserve the property value. Repairs and retrofits can be a financial burden; however, there are many programs in NYC to help make services affordable:
- HomeFix [https://www.homefixnyc.org/]: This program administered through the New York Department of Housing and Preservation Development provides access to affordable low- or no-interest and potentially forgivable loans for home repairs to eligible owners of one- to four-family homes in the five boroughs. HomeFix offers loans up to $60,000 per home, with an additional $30,000 per additional rental unit, with an anticipated maximum loan amount of $150,000 for a four-family home. Contact HomeFix at 646-513-3470 with further questions or to determine your eligibility.
- Rebuilding Together [https://rebuildnyc.org/apply]: Offers many homeowner services including critical home repairs and accessibility modifications. Through the Critical Home Repair Program, qualifying applicants can obtain home repair services at no cost. The application is currently closed, but homeowners can sign up for the waitlist [https://rebuildnyc.org/home-repair-interest] and check back when the program has reopened. The Accessible Modification Program provides free installation of wheelchair ramps and lifts, stair glides, handrails, grab bars, and ADA compliant bathrooms for elderly and/or disabled people and veterans. The application is currently only open to veterans, other interested homeowners can sign up for the waitlist [https://rebuildnyc.org/home-repair-interest]. If you are a US Military veteran in need of accessibility modifications, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Veteran Interest” in the subject line to receive an application.
- New York State Weatherization Assistance Program [https://hcr.ny.gov/weatherization]: Connects income-eligible homeowners with local weatherization service providers to provide free services that help conserve energy and improve safety and health standards. Services include sealing cracks and holes to reduce heat loss, insulation of attics and walls, heating system repairs or replacement, providing efficient lighting and refrigeration, and window and or/outside door repair or replacement, among other offerings. If you are interested in applying for this free program, homeowners can reach out to their local weatherization provider [https://www.nyhousingsearch.gov/weatherization/NYWeatherization.html] to determine eligibility and start the application process.
- Center for New York City Neighborhoods [https://cnycn.org/]: For more information on repair, retrofit, and weatherization services, contact the Center for New York City Neighborhoods Homeowner Hub by calling 646-786-0888.
3. Manage your property taxes and other housing expenses
- Property taxes
- New York City offers multiple property tax exemptions for various subsets of low to moderate-income homeowners. If you are a senior, veteran, or person living with a disability, you may be eligible for a significant property tax exemption which could reduce your quarterly property tax statement by up to 50%. Additionally, the School Tax Relief (STAR) credit check and Enhanced STAR program administered through the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance can provide additional tax breaks for homeowners. Read our blog [https://www.citybarjusticecenter.org/news/property-tax-benefits-for-new-york-city-homeowners/] on property tax exemptions to learn more about program eligibility requirements and the application process.
- The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) [https://access.nyc.gov/programs/home-energy-assistance-program-heap/] helps eligible households meet the cost of heating their homes. This might include paying for fuel, your utility source, heating equipment replacement and repairs. The benefit is paid either directly to your heating vendor or utility company each month and can ensure that your heating costs stay affordable during the winter months. Applications open each year around mid-November and remain open until funds run out. Interested households can apply online [https://mybenefits.ny.gov/mybenefits/begin], by mail, or in person at a local HEAP center. Visit the NYC Human Resources Administration website [https://access.nyc.gov/programs/home-energy-assistance-program-heap/#how-to-apply] for more information on the application process.
- Co-op/Condo Fees
- It is incredibly important to stay on top of your monthly co-op maintenance and condo common charge payments. In some ways, it is important to prioritize these payments over other housing expenses because those fees can escalate very quickly with late charges and legal fees that are passed on to you. Condos and co-op apartments are also a form of communal living arrangement and your neighbors often must carry those expenses on your behalf when you are unable to keep up. If you are unable to maintain those expenses or are served late notices or legal documents, contact our office immediately so that we can advise you on your options and guide you through this moment of hardship.
4. Look at your budget
- Living on a fixed income often poses challenges for seniors and folks living with a disability. Managing the various costs of owning a home can become overwhelming, but it is important review all your regular monthly expenses. Understanding the bills and other financial obligations you need to satisfy allows you to be a more conscientious consumer and ensures that you live within your means. After a thorough review of your finances, you will be better equipped to make a decision on whether you should take on a renter, shop around for cheaper homeowners insurance, or make a larger change like selling your car or downsizing to a more affordable housing situation.
5. Create a life and estate plan
- Life and estate planning are particularly important for LGBTQ+ senior homeowners to ensure your personal and financial affairs are in order so that your wishes can be carried out when you are unable to do so. Estate planning allows you to make a plan in advance so that your home and other valuable estate assets are distributed as you wish. Proper estate planning will include a will or living trust and potentially a deed transfer for any real estate you own. Similarly, life planning ensures that healthcare and end-of-life decisions are in place and loved ones are protected in the event that you fall ill or pass away. A spouse or domestic partner is presumed to make some of these decisions, but if you are not partnered or your relationship is not legally formalized, a healthcare proxy and power of attorney allow a designee of your choice to make important health and financial decisions on your behalf. Considering these important decisions can be intimidating and emotional, but creating a plan that communicates your wishes and protects your loved ones will give you all peace of mind.
This informational resource does not constitute, or substitute for, legal advice.
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