Speaking to the Erwin Kiwanis Club, Donna Lewis with the First Tennessee Development District, said funds are available to qualifying Unicoi County and Town of Erwin residents for home improvements through the Home Rehabilitation Program. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUG) funds awarded through the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency (THDA) is conducting a Home Rehabilitation Program for low-income homeowners. The program has provided a total of $250,000 for Erwin residents and $500,000 for Unicoi County residents to receive home repairs if they meet the specified criteria.

On Jan. 9, Donna Lewis, Housing Programs Assistant with the First Tennessee Development District, gave an informational presentation on the program during the Erwin Kiwanis Club’s weekly meeting.

“One of the things we’re finding in our communities throughout upper East Tennessee is that there are needs some folks have that they can no longer meet,” Lewis said.

The goal of the program is to bring substandard housing units into compliance with HUD housing quality standards and local building codes while also addressing health and safety concerns.

Lewis said the agency has already received multiple applications from Erwin residents, but they have just began taking applications for Unicoi County.

Eligible work that may be done under the Home Rehabilitation Program includes plumbing and electrical work, foundation and subfloor replacement and repair, roof truss repair and roof replacement, handicap accessibility, and window and door replacement.

“If lead based paint is involved in your home, we can spend up to $25,000, but if there is no lead based paint, we can go upwards of $40,000 for a home rehab,” said Lewis. “That allows for a lot of work to be done on someone’s home.”

Lewis gave an example of how the program can assist people by giving the example of a 65-year-old single woman living on a fixed income who’s bathroom sink is experiencing a leak.

“Something that starts out as not being a major problem can become a big deal,” Lewis said. “When that water starts to leak through the cabinet and the bathroom, then it leaks through the floor of the bathroom, then it starts deteriorating the floor joists, and before long she’s got a hole there.”

Plumbing and electrical work are often some of the first home improvements that people need. For those totally lost in terms of what kind of repair their home may need, a thorough home inspection will be conducted by a professional contractor to determine any necessary repairs.

“We do have to put a deed of trust on the home for the amount of work that we do,” she said. “As long as you maintain the home as your primary residence for five years, that deed of trust will be released.”

If the resident of the home has a life estate to the property, work can still be done on the home, but whoever is the other party to the life estate must sign the deed of trust and promissory note.

In order to qualify for the repair work, the home value cannot exceed $158,000 after the repairs are completed.

“Sometimes we have issues with the value of homes, especially in rural areas because sometimes people own land, whether it be farm land or mountain land, and they have a higher property tax assessment,” Lewis explained. “But we are just looking at the value of the home itself, and not the value of the land.”

Other applicant criteria include: qualifications by low income guidelines, all property taxes must be paid and up to date, the applicant must occupy the property as their principal residence and must have been a resident there for at least a year.

The applicant must also voluntarily apply for assistance, must demonstrate ability to maintain their residence in areas of ongoing maintenance and repairs, and must maintain homeowners insurance during the five-year compliance period.

To meet the low-income qualification, the maximum household income for one person is $29,050, for two people it is $33,200, for three people it is $37,350, for four people it is $41,450, for five people it is $44,800, for six people it is $48,100, and for seven people it is $51,400.

Homeowners also must be prepared to stay elsewhere if needed during the time of repair work if, for example, the power needs to be cut off to change out the electrical or a heat pump needs to be unhooked.

“The only requirement for a homeowner’s investment besides putting together their information, is they have to come up with $150 to pay for a financial management class,” Lewis said. “Anyone who attends the class can learn how to manage money and also save money so that if their sink does start leaking again, or they need future repairs, they have funds set aside for that.”

Applications will be accepted until Jan. 31, and the home repairs are anticipated to begin within 18 to 24 months of approval.

For more information, on the Home Rehabilitation Program, contact Donna Lewis at 722 5122, or dlewis@ftdd.org. Applications can be found at http://www.ftdd.org/programs/housing-programs/.