MIFFLINTOWN - Area houses are becoming "home sweet homes" through the Juniata County Owner-Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Program.
Tim Brickley, SEDA-Council of Governments senior coordinator for housing, said the program helps homeowners throughout the county update and improve outdated or potentially hazardous conditions in their houses.
The federal program, funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, enables participating jurisdictions to make direct loans to low-income homeowners for housing rehabilitation. According to their website, the loans are an effective way to expand the supply of affordable housing.
To date, Brickley said, SEDA-COG has helped Juniata County secure three federal grants to facilitate the program. A fourth grant recently was approved and will bring $500,000 in funding to improvement projects focusing on the areas of Mifflintown, Mifflin and Fermanagh Township.
The primary purpose of the program is to bring homes into compliance with an acceptable code level, Brickley said. Contractors do extensive electrical work, evaluate roofs, gutters, downspouts and furnaces, install hand or guard rails, install purification systems and evaluate water supply.
In older homes throughout the county, wiring is often outdated, he said. Workers may have to rewire the house. Structures built before 1978 also must be tested for lead-based paint and related hazards.
IF YOU NEED ASSISTANCE
What: Juniata County Owner-Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Program
Who to call: SEDA-COG at (800) 326-9310, ext. 7252
What to ask for: Pre-qualification form for Juniata County
Though the program is county-wide, Brickley said each grant focuses on certain boroughs and townships. Before applying for grants, he said SEDA-COG does a demographic study to identify areas of need. The organization takes into account the number of homeowners and renters in each municipality, as well as how many homeowners are eligible for assistance. Need also is assessed based on the number of other similar programs working in the borough or township.
Once a grant is secured, 65 percent of the funds are used in those designated areas, Brickley said. One $500,000 grant can serve 12-15 homes.
Only homeowners are eligible to participate in the housing rehabilitation program. Homeowners must be up-to-date with all county tax payments, Brickley said. Those who live in an area with municipal water and sewer must be current on those payments too.
Homeowners also must have insurance on their house and an income consistent with HUD 8 guidelines.
Brickley said there are only two out-of-pocket payments required from homeowners for participation in the program. Homeowners must pay the filing fee for a five-year mortgage, agreeing that they're going to make the house their primary home for five years. They also are responsible for making payments on a no-interest forgiveable loan from the county.
Throughout the first three phases of the project in Juniata County, rehabilitation was completed at 39 local homes, with project costs totaling $1,166,619.
The future of the program depends on the grant, Brickley said. Grants are good for five years, but all construction has to be completed within three years. The last two years are "basically the close-out," he said.
Continuing need is one of the things that makes for successful grant application, Brickley said.
"If you feel you're interested, please contact us," he urged.
Interested individuals can call the office at (800) 326-9310 ext. 7252 and ask for a pre-qualification form for Juniata County.
County Commissioner Teresa O'Neal said the program not only helps homeowners improve the conditions of their homes, but also provides work for local contractors.
Whenever possible, Brickley said the program hires local professionals to complete rehabilitation projects. When new contracts are received, he said SEDA-COG reaches out to general contractors in the area and lets them know of the upcoming project. Then the organization holds a contractors' conference to talk about the program and its requirements.
Brickley said contractors have to apply for the program. They must provide four references, carry at least $1 million of liability insurance, be certified to do lead work, have an EPA-certified renovator on staff, provide a HPPA vacuum for lead work and be registered with the attorney general's office.
SEDA-COG also helps Juniata County obtain Community Development Block Grants, which traditionally have been used to fund water and sewer work throughout the county, O'Neal said.
"SEDA-COG does an exceptional job in helping this board of commissioners," Commissioner Jeffrey Zimmerman said, explaining that the organization makes the determination of which projects are eligible for grants.
"Their efforts on our behalf are very, very helpful in guiding that through," he said.
"They've done an awful lot of background work," Commissioner Robert Reynolds added.