Government Help with Home Repairs
By Debra L. Karplus, MS
You’ve been living in your home for awhile. It seems that every time you cross off a task on your to-do list, you notice more things that need fixing. A loose gutter has created a soft spot in the roof where squirrels have gotten in and chewed electrical wiring; the dining room ceiling now has a wet spot under the upstairs toilet that frequently overflows. It feels like an uphill battle and can become overwhelming at times, emotionally, financially and time-wise.
Not to worry! Your rescuer may be just a click or phone call away. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has numerous programs that provide grant or low-interest or deferred-interest loans to Americans residing in certain locales. Despite the tough economy of the past few years, many components of these home repair programs are still thriving. Typically managed at the local or state level; the best place to start is to contact city hall.
A variety of valuable home repair programs are available.
Some programs are income or need-based, in combination with family size. But, according to the charts that determine eligibility, you may be poorer than you think! In this situation, that’s very good news. As many Dollar Stretcher readers know, people can live very comfortably despite being considered “low income.”
Known as target areas, homes in specific neighborhoods are sometimes eligible for government-funded renovation programs. Many programs bring your home up to local building codes; this is especially helpful with older homes that may have plumbing or electrical systems that are inefficient or outdated, making replacement parts difficult to find. HUD also has programs designated for senior citizens, typically persons over sixty-two years old, and for people with disabilities. And the good news is the homeowner usually gets to make choices about where things go, such as electrical outlets, or what colors to use, such as in exterior painting, as well as a choice of approved contractors.
Some home repair programs are more extensive than others.
Emergency home repair programs can help if you have a problem that can damage your house such as a leaky roof or a non-functioning furnace. Your city may have HUD money available for this program. Before you call a contractor or head to the home improvement store, see if this program exists in your area. Perhaps you are eligible!
Full home rehabilitation projects tend to be fairly extensive, involving perhaps twenty-five thousand -dollars worth of renovation in the form of a grant or deferred-interest loan. These programs will address code issues such as electricity, plumbing, heating, structural problems, as well as problems related to lead-based paint. Once you get the paperwork started with a specialist employed by the city, they will do a thorough inspection to determine what improvements need to be made. Separate structures such as detached garages, sheds, and fences, or trees and landscaping, may not be eligible.
First-time homebuyers, seniors or people with disabilities may benefit from free or low-interest government programs, too.
In the past, the federal government has helped first-time home buyers with a tax credit. This recent tax advantage on your Individual 1040 Tax Form is different than the Homebuyers Assistance Program that may be available where you live. Call your local Housing Authority, or city hall, to learn more.
Being a senior citizen who is a homeowner has many advantages. Some municipalities manage government programs to assist older adults with home repairs. Perhaps you or an elderly neighbor or family member could benefit from this service.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which was signed into law in the early 1990s by President Bush, sets standards for accessibility. Rental properties must meet certain specifications. But if you are the occupant of your own home and find yourself with a disability from a fall, injury or illness or medical condition, the government may have some grant or low-interest loan resources to eliminate barriers and modify your home’s layout with simple improvements such as porch railings, or more complex changes such as widening doorways and making bathrooms accessible. Retro-fitting a house for a disability might make the different between being able to remain in the house versus moving to a different place. Find out if your household may benefit from these kinds of programs.
Fixing up your home to make it more functional adds to the value of your property when you go to sell it; but perhaps more important, many home improvements contribute to a comfortable standard of living now, and to your physical and emotional well being. Home repairs can become a major stressor. But with the assistance of government programs that may be managed by your city, making your home more livable can become an affordable option.