Friday, May 8–County Seeks Block Grant To Continue Housing Program

SNOW HILL – A program to rehabilitate houses owned by low-income earners is slated to continue, with the county submitting a Community Development Block Grant request for $300,000 to keep the initiative running for another two years.

The funding will be used to rehabilitate 18 owner-occupied homes in Worcester County in need of major repairs or lead paint abatement.

The program will also use an additional $651,000 in funding from the Maryland special loans program, USDA rural development money, Shore-Up!, and state and national lead hazard grants and loans. The county will contribute $75,000 worth of administrative work.

The program was created in 1987 and has rehabilitated 214 homes to date.

“Definitely the program has made an impact. The problem is we still have an old housing stock,” said housing program administrator Jo-Ellen Bynum.

Almost 1,000 substandard homes were identified in Worcester County in the first survey in 1985, a number that fell to 278 in 2004. Many of those houses are vacant or abandoned. Only 63 of the 278 substandard houses identified in the 2004 survey were occupied. About 70 houses were also found to be marginal.

A third of the substandard houses were valued at less than $30,000, while half were valued between $30,000 and $75,000.

In the most recent two-year grant period, which ends this summer, the program has rehabilitated 21 homes, three more than originally planned.

“This has been a really worthwhile program for this county,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.

Low-income families, those living in unsafe conditions, the disabled and people over 65 get priority for program funds. Individual projects are bid out by the county. The average rehabilitation cost is $45,307.

Homeowners must apply for help, said Bynum. Some families are referred to the program though social services.

“We have more applicants come in than we can handle. We don’t lack for qualified applicants,” said Bynum.

Funding is meant for major heating, plumbing, wiring, roof and other essential repairs. Septic and well problems also inhabit the high priority list.

“This is basically for the repair of houses to make houses habitable,” said Commission President Louise Gulyas.