Non-profit group opensdoor to better housing

08:27, March 03, 2011      

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Eight apartments in Zhabei and Yangpu districts have benefited from a program helping senior citizens to improve their living conditions.

Many of the residents were widows and childless seniors.

Their homes were painted, upgraded and equipped with special bathrooms and kitchens with the help of Habitat for Humanity, a United States-based non-profit organization.

Cooperating with Shanghai Senior Citizens Foundation, the organization has been running the Shanghai Age-Friendly Housing Renovation Project.

Sixty-eight-year-old Tao Baoyuan, who uses a walking stick to get around, burst into tears when he talked about his "brand-new" apartment.

His 39-square-meter home now has wider entrances to the rooms and a low-level kitchen that is easier for him to use.

"I've been living all by myself for my whole life and I never expected these pennies from heaven would be for me," said Tao, who lives on a 485-yuan ($74) monthly subsidy from the local government.

Tao suffered from poliomyelitis when he was young.

He said he once spent three and a half months in hospital after falling in his apartment.

"It will never happen again," said Tao.

Another 12 families will be helped by Habitat for Humanity before the summer. Work on that second phase will begin in April.

"It's part of our Shanghai Age-Friendly Housing Renovation Project and we're trying to do two basic things (to the apartments) - make them more comfortable to live in and make them safer," said Eric Arndt, general manager of Habitat for Humanity China, Shanghai.

"Project details include improving electrical wiring, installing anti-slip flooring, gas and fire alarms and handrails as well as improving the accessibility of bathrooms for people with disabilities."

The first phase of the project started in December and finished on Jan 18.

Ninety-one-year-old Pan Shouzhen said she almost pulled out of the project three months ago because it seemed too good to be true.

"I thought they were kidding us or it was a fraud," said Qian Xiaoqi, Pan's son. "I worried that they might ask for money after the renovation because I had none to pay."

Arndt said it was unusual to work with families that had not heard of Habitat for Humanity.

"In the United States and worldwide, people apply to participate in our project, while for this pilot, because (Chinese) people were not familiar with us, we had to approach some families first. In subsequent phases, we intend to establish an application system here."

At least 30 volunteers from Habitat for Humanity China helped with some easy jobs during the renovations.

Leigh-Anne Russell, who came to China 20 years ago and worked as a safety officer at the UK Pavilion during the Shanghai Expo, was one of the volunteers.

"There's a good team spirit in the air and I heard some of the volunteers saying they have enough confidence to paint their own homes now," said Russell.

Age-Friendly Housing Renovation Project in the US works like a low-interest loan rather than being offered free as it is in China. The budget for each apartment was 20,000 yuan in Shanghai. The money came from donations.

Source: China Daily
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