By Brad Hicks
Financial help will soon be extended to some local elderly residents, citizens with disabilities and other low-income homeowners for home rehabilitation, thanks to grant funding both the town of Erwin and Unicoi County have received from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.
THDA officials were in Erwin on July 12 to present a total of $750,000 to the mayors of each governmental entity. The THDA has awarded a $500,000 HOME Program grant to Unicoi County, and $250,000 in HOME Program grant funding to the town of Erwin.
The HOME Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered in part in Tennessee by the THDA. The combined $750,000 received by Erwin and Unicoi County is the maximum amount allowed for a locality under the HOME Program.
The funding will be used to renovate single-family homes within the town and county limits, and the program benefits low-income families and individuals who could not have otherwise afforded to complete residential rehabilitation projected.
THDA Executive Director Ralph Perrey said the funding will be put to use in the selected homes to repair everything from roofing and flooring issues to HVAC updates and alterations to help those with mobility challenges get around a little easier.
“What you end up with is a nicely fixed up home where somebody can count on staying until the end of their days or as long as they’d like to,” Perrey said.
Each home selected under the program will receive up to $40,000 for rehabilitation to bring it up to code. The town of Erwin intends to use the funding to renovate around eight homes within its limits, and the county is looking to renovate around 16 residences.
“That can really make a difference for some folks here,” Perrey said.
The First Tennessee Development District has been selected to administer the program under the policies and standards established by the town and county. Perrey said the FTDD will work to identify eligible homeowners, coordinate the work, and hire local contractors to complete the renovations, adding that the hire of local contractors is an important component as it helps create jobs in the communities in which funding is awarded.
“It’s easy to work with folks here,” Perrey said. “The city and county, they both did a great job on their applications. They do a good job making the case that there’s a need here and that they know how to run these programs. We’ve had good experience with them both in the past, so that gives us a lot of confidence.”
Before any of the grant funding is awarded to homeowners, public meetings must be held in the town and county. Bill Forrester with the FTDD said information on program guidelines and application procedures will be provided at these meetings.
These meetings have not yet been scheduled, but Forrester said officials are hoping to hold these meetings by the end of this summer.
After the meetings are held, the application process will begin. After applications are received, a priority list will be formed based on the level of rehabilitation work needed, as well as each applicant’s socioeconomic factors.
Forrester said a lengthy environmental review is included as part of the process.
“It’ll probably be a year before we actually start construction on any homes from that public meeting timetable,” Forrester said.
Financial assistance for home repairs will be provided to those selected for the program in the form of a deferred grant that is forgivable at 20 percent per year if the homeowner remains in compliance. Forrester said the HOME Program grant funding must be spent within three years.
Both Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch and Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said they were pleased to receive the funding, as it will benefit a number of citizens in the community and the area as a whole.
“This is great,” Lynch said. “This is about the second or third one that we’ve received since I’ve been in office, and it is really good in the fact that houses will be repaired, and people will have nicer places to live. But one thing it does is it instills a spirit of confidence in the folks who live in the house that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, and I think that’s probably one of the more important aspects of the whole program.”
Hensley said the receipt of the funding marks another step in Erwin’s mission to advance the town in terms of economic and community development.
“This is going to give our homeowners a better way of living and it’s going to promote their welfare, so we’re excited about upgrading the housing and bringing that housing up to standard,” she said.