Home rehab money available


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A rehabilitated house in Smyrna. In Delaware, residents of Sussex and Kent counties, minus Dover, with a low to moderate income level are eligible. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Pam Pearce’s house was badly in need of repairs.

An older building, her Smyrna home had a leaking roof and unsteady floors.

The total cost was about $22,000.

Ms. Pearce and her family saved for several years but unexpected medical expenses depleted much of those savings.

Meanwhile, the structure was not growing stronger.

“You know walking in when you hear that creak and the softness in the floors, you know we’re going to have to do something here,” Ms. Pearce said.

Help arrived in the form of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

The CDBG program is a long-established nationwide initiative that focuses primarily on repairing houses, with funds provided by Congress to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The department then distributes funds to local governmental bodies, including the Delaware State Housing Authority.

In Delaware, residents of Sussex and Kent counties, minus Dover, with a low to moderate income level are eligible. The housing authority works with the counties to allocate the money, typically about $2 million, to provide for renovations for low- and middle-income households in lower Delaware, officials said.

Meetings are held by towns and rural areas for citizens to make their cases, and eligible Delawareans are added to a waiting list, often several hundred names long.

Special emphasis is given to targeted areas in municipalities and counties, selected by the town and county governments, respectively.

DSHA’s first priority for applications is home rehabilitation, followed by infrastructure and emergency projects. All work must primarily benefit low- and moderate-income homeowners.

“The majority of money is typically awarded for owner-occupied housing rehabilitation,” said Albert Biddle, supervisor of Kent County Housing and Community Development.

While housing receives much of the attention, the overall goal is broader, with the program intended to help communities that might not otherwise be able to get needed financial assistance. That can include demolition, planning studies and infrastructure construction.

“We do lot of sewer hookups, especially in Sussex,” said Andrew Lorenz, a management analyst III with DSHA.

Ms. Pearce’s home received a new roof and new floors, but those are not the only things homeowners can benefit from.

Much of the work is done to bring houses up to county code. New electrical, plumbing or heating systems can be installed, and dwellings can be made accessible for individuals with disabilities, such as by adding a wheelchair ramp.

Applications are due the last Thursday in February and the areas receiving funds are announced in June.

This fiscal year, about $1.77 million was available.

While five towns or cities — Harrington, Bridgeville, Delmar, Georgetown and Seaford — are receiving money, all of it is handled by the counties and paid to contractors on behalf of the municipalities.

The bulk of that sum was available for eight unincorporated areas and various “scattered sites.” Kent County received about $770,000 for those areas, while Sussex was earmarked $654,000.

Scattered sites are defined as houses or infrastructure located in unincorporated locales that have not been designated target zones.

To receive funding, a household must be designated low- or middle-income, defined as 80 percent or less of the median income for the county. In Kent County, one person cannot make more than $37,050, two people have a maximum income of $42,350, three people cannot earn more than $47,650 and four people must have a total income of $52,900 or less.

For a Sussex County resident, the levels are $35,500 for one person, $40,550 for two people, $45,600 for three and $50,650 for four.

After the money is allocated, the counties take bids from contractors and then award the projects, with workers being paid through the counties, even for construction in a city.

Mr. Biddle said the counties maintain lists based on requests received year-round, with different waiting lists depending if an applicant is in a targeted area.

Residents in a town or city often receive word from their municipality, but they can also apply through the county directly. Those in outside area s can go through a community group or the county.

Participating municipalities must hold public information sessions, which allow many people to find out about the program.

The applications for cities and towns are scored on several criteria. Mr. Lorenz said higher-income locales tend to do worse, while those with a lower median population tend to appear on the list year after year, although DSHA’s review panel tries to spread the funds out.

As part of a Metropolitan Statistical Areas with more than 50,000 people, Dover receives funds directly from the federal Housing Department. New Castle County, considered an urban county, is in a similar position.

Delaware officials say CDBG funds have helped “many” residents of the First State over the years.

“There’s always somebody somewhere that fears government stuff like that, but when they really figure out the program they know it’s a good program,” Mr. Lorenz said.

Ms. Pearce concurs. Her sister-in-law had previously received help, leading to her applying when she needed it.

“I think it’s awesome, especially low-income families here that can’t afford to do the repairs that need to be done to do the upkeep,” she said.

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