Homeowner Rehabilitation: Providing Essential Repairs

The old two-story farmhouse in Clark County had definitely seen better days. The wood siding, once painted white, was gray and weathered. The roof was in bad shape, the windows leaked and the remnants of an old TV antenna hung precariously from the eave. But the owner of the house wasn't giving up on it. A few years ago, the homeowner took on the huge task of restoring the old farmhouse.

"I don't think she weighed 90 pounds, but she was determined to do it all by herself," said Dana Whitehouse, Self-Help Housing Program Manager at Interlakes Community Action Partnership (ICAP). The Madison-based agency is one of the groups that administer an SDHDA program to help income qualified homeowners repair their homes, make them accessible, correct code violations and take other steps to keep the homes livable.

Called the HOME Homeowner Rehabilitation Program, it's a statewide program that funds up to $10,000 in improvements. In most places, the agency hires contractors to do the work, but Whitehouse said ICAP is one of the few organizations in the country that also offers a self-help option. If a family is willing and able to do the work, Interlakes rehabilitation representatives will arrange to purchase the materials, lend the tools needed to do the work and then show them how to use the tools. They then teach and guide them through their construction project. "When the homeowner chooses this option, the money can really go a lot further," Whitehouse said.

The owner of the farmhouse opted for the do-it-yourself approach. Despite having little experience, she reroofed the house, replaced windows, added a new window, and put up new siding. The before-and-after photos are striking.

Hers is one of several success stories from the Rehabilitation program, Whitehouse said. Whitehouse also told of a single mother, whose house literally shook when trucks passed. She was able to have a new basement foundation placed under her house. Her child had a basement to play in and quite literally a more stable home environment.

"We also handle an amazing number of leaky roofs," commented Whitehouse. "It's a huge stress for them." And it doesn't take long for a bad roof to cause other problems in the house. Water can seep in, rot the ceiling joist, ruin drywall, warp floors and lead to problems with mold and mildew.

Under the program, the home repairs are financed through a conditional grant. A five-year, interest-free mortgage is placed on the home. Each year that the recipient owns the home, 20 percent of the mortgage is forgiven. So if the owner stays in the home for five years, the entire amount is forgiven. Whitehouse said she's noticed a side benefit to the program as well, especially in small towns. When an aging home is rehabbed, it raises the bar for the neighborhood. People down the street start painting their houses, fixing decks and doing other upkeep thus keeping the community spirit alive.