Grant could make $400,00 available for home repairs

Homeowners in a four-block area along Hillsboro’s northern edge could benefit from state funding for home improvements if a grant application from the city is approved by the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing.

The application for $400,000 would be used to make major repairs on most of the 47 homes located in the target area, which is bordered by Second and Third streets on the south and north and Main and Madison streets on the west and east.

The Hillsboro City Council, at its Feb. 20 meeting, approved preliminary resolutions that would get the application process under way.

“This not for redecorating,” Steve Garrett, city administrator, said of the project. “It’s for major systems in the home that aren’t working-a new roof, windows for energy efficiency, insulation, electrical, plumbing, foundations and heating and air.”

A “windshield survey” of the area indicated at least nine homes with at one major exterior need, 25 with at two major needs, and two houses that should be demolished.

No interior inspection was done.

The grant stipulates a limit of $17,000 per home, including inspection fees. Funds can be used to demolish a structure with the permission of the landowner.

Garrett estimated half of the houses in the four-block area are resident-owned and half are rentals.

“It does make a difference how the money can be spent,” Garrett said. “If it’s a rental, landowners can still get in on it, but it does require some investment on the part of the landowner and an agreement that the landowner will rent to lower-income persons.”

Because the four-block target area is included in the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ), landowners will pay property taxes based on their May 1999 valuation through May 2009, regardless of the improvements made.

“That’s part of the reason this looked like such a good project,” said Mayor Delores Dalke. “We’ve already done the first step.”

Dalke and Garrett said they feel good about Hillsboro’s chances to have the grant request approved.

“It definitely fits the criteria,” Dalke said. “What they’re looking for are projects that will make a huge difference in the neighborhood. This money really has a chance of doing some good in this neighborhood.”

The target area was limited to only four blocks of the NRZ to enhance the impact of the grant funding and, hence, the chances of it being approved.

“What that means is that we’re going to look at doing this grant a second and possibly a third time to get the other areas,” Garrett said.

He said such grants usually require that one project is completed before money for a second project is approved. The process of addressing homes within the entire NRZ could take four to five years.

“I’m sure there are some people who are interested in this who fall outside the target area,” Garrett said. “We’ll deal with those as we go along. Our target area, I think everyone would agree, is where the money is needed the most.”

The grant winners will be announced around June 1.

“We usually have some hoops to jump through after that, so it will probably be mid-summer before we actually get into projects,” Garrett said.

He expects the houses included in the project to be completed within a a year to 18 months.

Once the grant is awarded, the city will contact homeowners in the target area about participating.

“We’ll take it from house to house and notify the landowners so we can make sure those who are able to take advantage of it can do so,” he said.

The city will likely take bids on various components of the project to save costs. For instance, the city may ask for one bid for all of the foundations that will need to be replaced.

“Of course, the homeowner has a lot of input,” he said. “We’ll probably include out-of-town contractors as well as local contractors because it will be up to a bid process. My preference would be for local contractors, but the state has rules about equal access for opportunities.”

Garrett said finding contractors may be challenging because many contractors prefer to work on new houses than to renovate old ones.

The city’s interest in this project stems from a broader concern about the lack of adequate housing for middle- to lower-income residents.

“It’s getting harder to find housing for people at that income level,” he said. “This grant is designed to get (older homes) livable.”

The grant is funded as a block grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It will be awarded according to income level of the homeowner or rental group as well the condition of the house.

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