Since 1988, the United States has recognized Sunday, Aug. 21, as National Seniors Day, a day to celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of our seniors.

For Elaine Briggs of Wayne, in 2017, aging in place means continuing to make soap and carry on with the other hobbies and crafts she enjoys doing in her own home. Public housing authorities and community action agencies across Maine provide no-cost home repairs and modifications for qualified older Mainers to enable them to live safely in their homes. Elise Klysa/Kennebec Journal, File

As executive director of the South Portland Housing Authority, which provides quality affordable housing for older Mainers, individuals with disabilities and families, I believe this day is also a good moment for our state – the oldest in the nation by median age – to evaluate how we care for the needs of our seniors.

Of chief concern is housing and the ability to age in place, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control defines as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.”

We all know Maine has a severe housing shortage. While this shortage affects individuals and families of all ages, older Mainers are particularly vulnerable. Housing is as much a matter of survival as a means of dignity, independence and connection to family and community during a stage of life when these are most important but are most at risk.

A city-commissioned housing assessment released this year found South Portland is “likely still feeling the ‘squeeze’ of too few new housing units” built over the last decade, during which time the population of seniors increased.

Increasing the supply of quality affordable senior housing must be prioritized. Like many other public housing authorities across Maine, South Portland Housing Authority is working hard to increase the supply of senior housing through property rehabilitation and development of new properties – such as the planned Betsy Ross Crossing – using low-income housing tax credits and tax increment financing, which are vitally important for the financial feasibility of such projects.


As these projects come online, other, more practical solutions for helping meet older Mainers’ immediate needs must also be employed. The South Portland Housing Authority is one of several public housing authorities across Maine that provide no-cost home repairs and modifications for qualified older Mainers to enable them to live safely in their homes. This program is made possible through MaineHousing’s Community Aging in Place grant. South Portland is accepting applications for this year’s program; South Portland residents can contact Phillip Smith at (207) 773-4140, ext. 234, to learn more.

Repairs and modifications can include installation of accessibility and adaptive equipment; health and safety repairs, the upkeep of carbon monoxide detectors, threshold ramps, dryer vents and refrigerator ventilation, and the relocation of appliances where possible. Mainers anywhere can find similar programs through their local public housing authority or local community action agency.

While all these efforts are moving Maine in the right direction, the data show there is more work to be done.

This National Seniors Day, consider helping an older Mainer access available energy assistance, home repair and other programs from or their local housing authority or community action agency. You could check in on an elderly neighbor, offer to take care of a household chore, offer a ride to an appointment or simply have a conversation.

Consider taking the time to learn about the many organizations advocating for older Mainers, including Age-Friendly South Portland, AARP Maine and the Maine Council on Aging. If you’re in a position to, explore volunteer opportunities with Maine Veterans’ Homes or your local assisted living or hospice center to provide companionship or activity assistance to residents.

All of us have a role to play in caring for the needs of our seniors, who have more than earned the right to safely age in place, wherever they call home.

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