Large grant will help Island homeowners
Leaky roof? Inefficient insulation? Faulty plumbing? Low on funds to get the repairs? Twenty-five Oak Bluffs and Tisbury homeowners will soon get the chance to have necessary home improvement repairs done for free.
Money for the repairs will come from a $550,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last July, to be used on 25 units in the two Island towns this year. Ted Amaral, program manager for The Resource Inc. (TRI), a non-profit organization responsible for delivery of the grant money, said applications are now being accepted.
Approximately $2.55 million has been awarded to Island towns since 2003 through the program, for repairs on 120 units in Island towns. Former grant recipients said they were extremely thankful to receive the funds - which are given in the form of a loan - and never felt they were being treated as charity cases.
HUD issues these grants, called Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), every year to various communities in need, based on a statutory formula that takes into account population, poverty, incidence of overcrowded housing, and age of housing. "The primary statutory objective of the CDBG program is to develop viable communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for persons of low- and moderate-income," the CDBG division of the HUD web site explains.
Oak Bluffs was the lead Island town. The selectmen contacted the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development for the grant. Communities with populations under 50,000 are considered non-entitlement areas, and the state, rather than HUD, decides which communities should receive the grants.
Martha's Vineyard towns received their first CDBG grants in 2002. The grant issued in 2005 - to be used in 2006 - provided $925,000 for projects in Edgartown, West Tisbury, Tisbury, and Oak Bluffs. Repairs were done on 41 units throughout the four towns on that grant last year.
Damage to insulation, doors and windows, flooring, foundations, roofs, and electrical and heating systems are some of the repairs eligible under the grant. The program is not meant for gratuitous projects such as additions or landscaping, Mr. Amaral said. It is intended for people whose home is in need of a necessary repair due a health code or safety violation, and cannot come up with the funds to complete it on their own.
"It helps preserve housing stock in a community," Mr. Amaral said of the project. "The pie is growing smaller, but more people are wanting a piece of the pie." The 2007 grant is nearly half the previous years' grant to Island towns.
Alice Boyd of Bailey Boyd Associates in Harwich constructed the grant proposal. Tisbury and Oak Bluffs were the only Cape and Islands communities to receive a CDBG this year, Mr. Amaral said.
By splitting the grant evenly, each household would receive $22,000 worth of repairs. But the money is awarded for specific repairs, not a set amount for each household, Mr. Amaral said.
Fliers advertising the program are scattered throughout the two towns, pinned to bulletin boards in the town halls and post offices, and passed through the community by hand.
Applications, available by contacting TRI, ask the applicant's family size, income, and estimated cost of repairs. Applicants must own their home and reside in it full-time, Mr. Amaral said, adding that it is intended for low- to middle-income homeowners who do not rent out their home for significant portions of the year. According to the application, a household of one must have a maximum annual income of $40,150, and a household of six a maximum of $66,550. HUD sets the applicant income and residency guidelines.
TRI runs a full credit check examining tax returns and deeds, before narrowing down the pool of applicants. Mr. Amaral said they try to choose homeowners who don't have excess debt.
Once the recipients are chosen, TRI sends a representative for a site visit, compiles the homeowner's repair wish list, finds three contractors per job, and settles on the lowest bid. In the past, the repairs, performed by local contractors, were done in early spring.
The grant offers a zero percent deferred payment loan to homeowners, who are only required to pay for the repairs if they sell their home within 15 years. The loan is deferred at a rate of 1/15th per year. If the home is sold before the 15 years have elapsed, the homeowner must retroactively pay back what is owed on the loan.
Last year, Lois DeBettencourt had a new boiler and septic system installed in her Oak Bluffs home, along with various electrical work and bathroom repairs. Mrs. DeBettencourt, 76, has lived in her home for 53 years, and as a single homeowner could not come up with the funds for the repairs on her own. "The time was perfect because the other one was just about to go," she said of her ageing boiler. "The people were just wonderful. I did nothing but sign my name."
Janet Holladay, a book designer at the Tisbury Printer, said initially she was unsure if she qualified for this type of assistance, but last year her leaky roof and bathroom floor - damaged by the leak - were repaired courtesy of the grant.
"Thankfully, I didn't have to push that panic button," said Ms. Holladay, the owner of an Oak Bluffs cottage built over a century ago. "I'm a single householder and house repairs are not my forte."
Ms. Holladay said she now talks up the program to friends, praising the contractors for their quick and efficient work, and TRI for their direction, adding with a chuckle, "If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to keep a single woman going."