Union Township officials anticipate renovating 20 to 25 houses over the next two years using Community Development Block Grant and other funds.
Assistant township secretary/treasurer Linda Farris, who also serves as grant administrator and zoning officer, said the township is eligible to receive $102,246 this year in CDBG grants.
Changes in state law, she said, have resulted in the county administering CDBG money for “all entitlement community whose population is 10,000 or less.” As a result, she said, Ellwood City, Shenango and Union townships receive grants “on behalf of” the county who is entitled to take 15 percent of the grant as administrative costs. This leaves $86,909 available for the program.
However, Farris said, these funds can be stretched by combining them with other grants.
The township received a $500,000 HOME grant, administered through Lawrence County Social Services. Additional funds are available through a lead remediation grant. This, she said, is available to control lead found in homes that have children age 5 and younger.
“For instance, if windows have lead, we can replace them using these funds. This will allow the available funds to go farther,” Farris said.
To qualify, Farris said, houses must be owner occupied, and residents must show proof of income, home insurance and that their taxes are paid and up to date. Farris said she takes the calls for people who would like to be considered for the program and can be reached at (724) 658-7921. She estimated that there are between 35 and 40 names on the list at this time.
“The work we do is considered a loan, but it it not paid back,” Farris said. “However, we require that the recipient live in the houses for at least four years following the rehab.”
If house ownership changes hands before that, she said, the loan must be repaid at 100 percent the first year, 75 percent the second, 50 percent the third and 25 percent the fourth year.
“We don’t want people to take advantage, to get a house fixed up in order to sell it. We want them to remain in the house, in the community.”
Work is expected to begin in January.
Farris said the goal of the program is to bring the homes of low-to-moderate income up to Section 8 requirements.
Work to be done could be to the interior or exterior of a house and could include a new roof, replacing windows or a new furnace.
“We’re not supposed to do cosmetic work like replacing carpeting or installing new kitchen cabinets,” she said. “But there are exceptions. If a carpet is ripped or rippled and elderly people live in the house, it can be a tripping hazard in which case it can be replaced. And if old metal cabinets are falling off the wall, that is a safety issue.”
She added that outside work could including painting or siding, “But we don’t do cut stone or Shaker shingles,” she said. “That would be considered cosmetic.”
“This is a good program,” Farris said. “It primarily benefits our senior citizens and allows homeowners to have needed repairs made, things that they may not be able to afford on their own. It helps the resident and it helps the township by making the neighborhoods look good.”
She noted that the township has been doing housing rehabilitation since 1990, and estimated that more than 100 houses have been repaired in that time.
Farris added that CDBG funds may also be used for street paving, storm and sanitary sewers and water projects in areas where residents meet income eligibility, and to create Americans with Disabilities Act compliant handicapped accessible projects.
Supervisor chairman Pat Angiolelli said “it is typical” to use the funds for housing rehabilitation.
“This money must be used to benefit low-to-moderate income individuals,” he said. “Years ago we would pave streets, but everyone on the street and those on nearby streets, like to use the paved street, had to meet income guidelines. It’s hard to find whole streets where everyone qualifies. With housing rehab you can pinpoint one house in a neighborhood.”
At one time, he noted, the township used the funds to benefit everyone by donating $10,000 annually to the volunteer fire department who would use it toward the purchase of a new fire truck, or make improvements to Scotland Meadows Park, which is used by all residents. But changes in the law now prohibit those activities.
At a special meeting on Thursday morning, the supervisors accepted $15,000 in liquid fuels funds from the county.
The funds, the supervisors said, will be used toward the purchase of a hot box to be used for paving. The township anticipates purchasing a unit through the state co-stars list for about $30,000.
These devices, Angiolelli said, keep hot mix —used for patching streets — at the correct temperature until it can be used. He said it can remain hot for up to two days.
Township secretary/treasurer Robert Eckert noted that usually the hot mix is picked up at the plant and crews try to keep it hot in the trucks until it is used. But often, he said, a portion must be thrown away because it cools down and can’t be used.