A Stellar Community: Neighborhood Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of nine articles outlining each of the proposed projects included in this year’s Stellar Communities application.

by Eric Stearley

The Stellar Communities program is all about revitalization and community rebirth. Many of the projects are focused on bringing money into the area. A newly remodeled theatre will attract visitors interested in the arts. Connectivity improvements will make it easier for everyone to access the city’s many assets. The neighborhood owner-occupied rehabilitation projects is unique in this way; rather than investing in public spaces, this project will directly help current residents make improvements to the homes they own.

“This program will essentially help these homeowners make necessary repairs to their homes,” said Wabash Marketplace Executive Director Patrick Sullivan. “It’s not going to be aesthetics, it’s going to be, ‘Hey, we really have these major issues.’”

Marketplace reached out to homeowners in the area through a number of avenues, including a partnership with Living Well in Wabash County. Information on the grants was distributed at the senior center and during food bank tailgates. This year, 50 applications were requested, and of those returned, 17 homeowners qualified for the program.

“In this client acquisition process, we’ve really found that there’s a major need for this in Wabash,” said Sullivan. “Everything from calls from people who haven’t had a water heater in three years. This is Indiana. You can’t survive without a water heater.”

Other qualifying projects include roof and siding repairs, and projects to improve access for aging residents and those with disabilities. If granted, qualifying residents would receive a portion of the $350,000 grant total based on their specific needs.

“It’s needs based, up to $25,000 per home, so obviously homes that need a roof or something are going to take more of the money than if you just simply needed a water heater,” said Sullivan. “It all has to be justified and strictly recorded as far as what gets fixed and what they needed. We have a good idea of where we stand on the 17 homeowners and that we can fit it all in underneath the budget.”

In order to qualify, homeowners had to identify specific needs and meet income eligibility requirements. Though the project has a target area, homeowners throughout the city can qualify.

“We targeted that area, basically from Market Street to the hospital and Wabash Street on the west and Allen Street on the east,” said Sullivan. “We know that’s an area of need. That’s an area with a lot of housing concerns and a lot of elderly individuals, but we only received 6 applications that qualified in that area, so after that, it’s open to Wabash city”

This project is also unique in that it is a yearly grant administered through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. Regardless of the outcome of this year’s Stellar designation, the neighborhood owner-occupied rehabilitation grant would have been submitted, but the Stellar designation greatly improves the city’s odds.

“We had it in mind, not only were we going to include it in Stellar, but we were going to put this thing together for this year anyway,” said Sullivan. “It’s a very competitive grant, but this will allow us to essentially not have to compete. We only have to compete with the other Stellar groups. They put aside a pool of money, essentially for Stellar designees, so we should be granted that.”

The fact that the project is ongoing also means this grant can be applied for long after the four-year Stellar timeline.

“This is a program that goes on every year, so our plan is to continue to do this in perpetuity,” said Sullivan. “This is a very difficult grant to put together as far as all of the preliminary legwork. You have to have all of the contractors identified. They have to be vetted. They have to be insured and bonded, and all of these things, so you go through a ton of legwork for the first ones, and then in the next phases, you can focus your time on reaching out and finding homeowners.”

If everything goes as planned, Wabash will see more than $1.2 million invested into housing over the next four years, and more in the years that follow.

“I would certainly anticipate that 4 years form now we will have figured out how to do this really well,” said Sullivan. “It’s something that Marketplace brings to the community, as the city does with its matching funds for it – 10 percent – which is pretty low relative to other grants.”

The application will be turned in this week, and as soon as the funds are approved, the home improvement projects will begin. Going forward, Sullivan hopes to identify 15-20 qualifying homeowners each year.

“I’m a relatively new transplant to Wabash, but the housing doesn’t necessarily meet up to par with the amenities and the industry that are around Wabash,” said Sullivan. “Certainly this helps address that. The normal level of a house, we’re bringing that up. We’re raising the property value, which improves your ability to go out and get loans. There are some things that can improve aesthetics; if you have lead paint on the outside if your house, you would receive siding, so that can help bring up the entire neighborhood’s property value.”

While other Stellar projects will help to attract new individuals and industry, the owner-occupied rehabilitation project will make the city’s housing options more attractive to newcomers, while ensuring that those already residing in Wabash experience a better quality of life.

“Certainly it has not only economic ramifications, but it helps to address a major problem that we have of housing,” said Sullivan, “and then there’s the humanitarian side of it. You’re taking some people who really have some specific, dire needs and helping them. We’re not trying to give people new shrubbery. We’re trying to help people that have had really difficult times, so that they can use the money they are making on something else. We’re just taking away a little of the blow on some of these projects.”

Though the application deadline for this year has passed, Marketplace continues to look for qualifying homeowners and projects for the coming years. For more information on the project and about applying for future rounds, contact Wabash Marketplace’s Patrick Sullivan at 260-563-0975.

Posted on 2014 Sep 02