County begins housing rehab program for low-income residents

In an effort to improve the quality of the housing stock in Washington County, an owner-occupied rehabilitation program for low-income residents was unanimously approved by the County Board May 10.

Under the program, those earning 50 percent or less of the area median income as determined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development will be able to apply for no-interest, deferred loans up to $20,000 for home improvements that address health, safety and accessibility concerns.

"I think it’s a great program," County Board Chair Myra Peterson said. "We have an aging population, and there are homes in need of furnaces, water heaters, roofs and upgrading. We have a lot of folks that can’t afford to do those things."

The county has earmarked roughly $140,000 of Community Development Block Grant funds to use for the program. Another $107,000 is expected to be added to the program in July, when Washington County receives its next round of CDBG funds, said Jane Harper, the county’s principal policy planner.

"Each year we hope to add more money to the program," she said.

The program will be administered by the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation’s Housing Resource Center.

"They service a lot of other loan programs as well," Harper said. "They will be able to connect people with other resources if they don’t qualify for the county’s program."

Harper said the county’s owner-occupied rehabilitation program will give priority to projects that improve health and safety concerns, such as replacing furnaces, roofs and rotting stairs.

The second priority will be for improvements that bring homes up to minimum code compliance. Projects aimed at reducing long-term maintenance and energy costs, such as exterior painting and replacing windows, will be the county’s third priority, Harper said.

"The county’s program is all for repair and replacement," she said. "This isn’t for new construction. The money can’t be used to put in a brand new sidewalk, for example, but it could be used to replace an existing one."

Income guidelines range from approximately $27,000 for a one-person household to nearly $50,000 for a family of eight or more. The maximum estimated market value of a home is $190,000. The deferred loans, which will be made available on a first-come, first-serve basis, will not have to be paid back until the property is sold or the title is transferred.

Peterson said she believes there is a real need for such a program in Washington County.

"I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve gotten from seniors who have said my water heater has gone out and I can’t afford to replace it," she said. "Your community is only as good as the housing stock in that community."

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