WHITMAN — Town officials are looking for new applicants for interest-deferred housing rehab loans under a joint grant program with the town of Abington.
The Abington-Whitman Housing Rehabilitation Program assists low- and moderate-income homeowners in specified areas within the two towns with making home repairs they could not otherwise afford.
“We just want to make sure the residents of Whitman know that there are programs available, that there is funding available, to do those types of rehabilitation projects,” Assistant Town Administrator Gregory Enos said. “That goes from lead paint abatement to major renovations up to $35,000 or more.”
The grant, now in its second round of funding, was approved by the Department of Housing and Community Development. The towns have 18 months in which to spend this round of funding, according to Enos, so the towns may apply again.
Whitman has done 18 such projects so far which have included replacement of roofs, windows, walls, heating systems and other emergency repairs.
“We teamed up with Abington because the grants are competitive and the greater need you can demonstrate, the greater likelihood you will be considered favorably for the grant,” Town Administrator Frank Lynam said.
The Abington-Whitman Housing Rehabilitation Program has committed the towns to “10 and 10,” or 20 improvements in the two towns over the course of each grant cycle. The first round of grants was received in 2012, round two in 2014, and a third round is being sought in 2016, according to Lynam.
Financial assistance is provided as a 0 percent interest, deferred payment loan meaning that no interest is ever charged and no payments are required as long as the owners continue to own and occupy their property, according to project consultant Paula Start with Community Opportunities Group Inc., in Boston.
“At the end of the 15-year term of the deferred payment loan (DPL) the loan is forgiven and essentially becomes a grant,” she said.
Lynam noted that, should a homeowner fall short of the 15-year occupancy requirement, the entire loan has to be repaid as part of the property settlement.
“It’s a win-win for the community and the residents. It keeps people in their homes, it keeps the homes in adequate shape, it helps the community because it doesn’t negatively affect the tax base and it provides for human needs,” he said. “They replace roofs, furnaces, siding — things that are life-essential — that they just can’t afford to do.”
The streets included in the target area represent Whitman’s older housing stock, Lynam said.
“The people that have been living there either have been living there a long time or are not necessarily long-term residents but they don’t have the income and ability to do the necessary improvements to make the houses habitable,” he said.
Up to $35,000 per unit can be provided to cover eligible repairs. Low-income (less than 50 percent of area median income) homeowners can receive 100 percent of project costs. Moderate-income owners (51 to 80 percent of area median income) can receive 75 percent of project costs from the program and would provide 25 percent from personal funds or a bank loan.
“If they are unable to contribute their share it is possible to get a waiver,” Stuart said. “Technical assistance is provided in the sense that our housing rehabilitation specialist, who has 30 years experience in construction, does an initial inspection of the property, and prepares work specs for the homeowner both for issues the homeowner identifies as needs and any other code required repairs.”
Once the homeowner approves the specifications, the specs go out to bid to contractors who register with the program. Community Opportunities Group checks references and make sure they are licensed and insured, according to Stuart. The Rehab Specialist inspects all completed work to be sure it’s done properly and according to the specs. The contractors are required to issue a one-year warranty on all labor as well as any manufacturer’s warranties on materials.
“While we focus in the target areas we can do projects involving needed emergency repairs anywhere within the two towns —leaking roof, failed septic system, accessibility modifications, failed heating systems, etc.,” she said.
Lynam said the program is another example of how regional collaborations can help individual towns.
“We’ve been pretty successful in teaming up,” he said.
In addition to the housing rehab program, Whitman has entered into a partnership with Abington to provide veterans’ services. Whitman and Abington most recently entered into a one-year trial inter-municipal agreement with Hanson for small animal control.
“Regionalization has a bad name around the towns because everybody’s concerned about retaining their identity and their individual authority,” Lynam said. “My focus is, ‘let’s get the job done and if we have to team up to do it, so much the better.’ It’ll cost us less in the long run doing the animal control program with three towns.”
Regionalized veterans’ services, while it’s not saving money in the short term, is providing more services to veterans in both Whitman and Abington, Lynam said.
“In the long term, it’s going to save us money because it allows our veterans’ agents to spend more time assisting veterans in seeking their entitlements through the VA and Social Security Administration,” he said. “Each person that does that comes off the Ch. 115 roles, which is what we pay.”
Chapter 115 is the statute requiring towns to provide minimal benefits for their veterans in need.