2017-08-16 / Real Estate

Means to an end

For many seniors, federal grants make repairs possible

Elaine Pierce at her recently renovated home near Courthouse and Hull Street roads in Chesterfield. 
ASH DANIEL Elaine Pierce at her recently renovated home near Courthouse and Hull Street roads in Chesterfield. ASH DANIEL Nestled among the plants and plastic-wrapped furniture, the ceramic dogs have seen it all.

From their perch on Elaine Pierce’s hearth, the dogs have watched as their owner had to leave her job as an emergency room registrar at Johnston-Willis Hospital because of her vertigo condition.

They’ve seen the front and backstairs of the home she’s had for two decades near Courthouse and Hull Street roads grow wobbly with age. They’ve seen the dripping faucets that run up her water bill. And worst of all, they’ve seen her put out buckets to deal with a roof that continued to leak after multiple patches.

As a 69-year-old living on a fixed income, Pierce did what she could to fix her 34-year-old home, but the repairs eventually overwhelmed her. On the advice of her ex-husband, Pierce contacted project:HOMES, a Central Virginia-based nonprofit that helps low-income homeowners with repairs through federal grants. An evaluator from the nonprofit visited Pierce last December and sized up the scope of her home’s issues. Contractors were hired and by June all of the work was complete, free of charge. Now, Pierce’s housing worries are a thing of the past.

“I just thank God for what they did,” says Pierce, a grandmother of seven and a great-grandmother of eight. “When this opened up, it was just like a heaven-sent blessing.”

Marion Cake, director of neighborhood revitalization for project:HOMES, says part of his nonprofit’s mission is to help people of lesser means repair their current homes. Especially as older neighborhoods are revitalized and younger residents move in, Cake says project:HOMES helps established residents stay settled as their home values rise.

The nonprofit manages two grants that are administered through the county from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: The Community Block Development Grant, and the Home Investment Partnerships Grant.

To qualify, participants must be homeowners with an annual income at or below 80 percent of the area’s median family income. Those limits are established by HUD every March, and are currently set at $43,350 for a single person in the Richmond area. Those limits go up with additional people in the household.

“If they meet those income requirements, we’ll go out and take a look at their house and see what kinds of health and safety repairs we can do for them,” Cake says. “Typically, a lot of the folks that are meeting our requirements and are demonstrating the need are seniors who’ve been in their house for a long time and are trying to stay there. If they’re on a fixed income, they may have some deferred maintenance.”

In the past, the program has targeted roof repairs, structural repairs, electrical, plumbing and sewer issues. Mentioning the age wave – the term for the baby boomer population reaching retirement age – Cake says that the program also helps people age in their homes, adding grab bars and rails, mobility ramps and modifying bathrooms to make homes more livable for seniors.

“There’s a lot of people entering that phase of life every day, and typically the most cost-effective place to live is where they already are,” Cake says.

In Chesterfield, there’s HUD grant money to do 32 home repair projects per year through the program. There’s currently a waiting list of about 100 clients in the county.

“It just takes a little while to chew through the list,” Cake says. “It’s a pretty good demand, and it’s mostly seniors.”

The Community Block Development Grant can be used in a variety of ways, such as funding afterschool educational programs. The grant can also be used for economic development in areas with high levels of poverty. Economic development funding is available in areas where at least 47 percent of citizens are at or below the median income level.

“Businesses in these areas can apply for assistance for façade improvements to the front of their businesses,” says Kathleen Thompson, Community Development Block Grant and housing grants administrator for the county.

HUD grants have also been used in Chesterfield to extend sewer lines, build sidewalks along the Jefferson Davis corridor and improve a park behind Providence Middle. To take advantage of these grants, Thompson encourages citizens to work directly with project:HOMES.

As for Pierce, she’s happy that the program helps seniors like herself.

“Project:HOMES is a very good organization, working with Chesterfield County,” she says. “They are concerned about people needing help.

“I’m really proud of the work they did.” ¦

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