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Habitat for Humanity offers critical home repairs

Agency urges veterans, seniors, low-income families to apply for repairs, homes

Courtesy Photo Volunteers dig posts for a handicap ramp in a team project by Habitat for Humanity and Home Depot.

Asking for help can be hard, but Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan encourages homeowners and homeowner hopefuls to reach out, because help is available.

The nonprofit organization is seeking applicants for two programs — Critical Home Repair, and Habitat Home Ownership.

“The easy part of our job, it seems like, is building the homes, and doing the construction,” Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan Executive Director Ted Fines said. “The hard part is getting people in here … filling out these two applications, one or the other.”

Funding is available, but many people do not know about the Critical Home Repair program, so they do not apply, according to Fines. Others may not feel comfortable asking for help, but he hopes more homeowners will take advantage of this program to assist them with much-needed home repairs.

“I think it’s a matter of publicizing it, getting the word out there,” Fines said. “We did close to $200,000 worth of critical home repairs last year alone. Now, that’s through fundraising, we were able to get it through grants.”

He said some of the grants were from the Besser Foundation, Consumers Energy Foundation, working through Habitat Michigan in Lansing through their Priority Home Repair program, Federal Home Loan Bank, Northland Area Federal Credit Union and Home Depot Foundation.

“Home Depot, we work with, they do a lot with veterans, and in turn, we do, too,” Fines noted.

“Veterans and older couples, I find, are too proud to ask for help,” he said. “But, for older couples, is it economically cheaper to live in your house, aging in place, or moving … into an old folks home? Staying in your house.”

Kristen LeSage is the first face you see when you walk into the Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan office. The administrative assistant takes in applications, answers questions, and seeks out new applicants.

“Some of these programs, they want veterans,” LeSage added. “They will help a veteran more than anybody else because it’s part of their program. They want to help a veteran, or they will make a house handicap-accessible … And it can be a spouse of a veteran, a widow.”

She said now is the time to apply for assistance.

“The quicker I can get people in there, the more people that we’re able to help,” LeSage said, noting that more funding is generally available early in the year.

Fines said that, since LeSage has been at Habitat, for the last year-and-a-half, “It’s made a big impact on the amount of projects that we’ve been able to start and finish, as far as critical home repairs.”

Critical home repairs include things like new roofing, septic systems, furnaces, windows, doors, siding, insulation, handicap-accessible ramps and more.

“You name it,” Fines said of the critical repairs available. “So why aren’t they lining up at our door, pounding on our door? They don’t know about it. We’re one of the few agencies, actually, that is getting this work done.”

He said Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency relies solely on a set amount of federal funding each year, but Habitat for Humanity has access to more yearlong funding.

“As large as NEMCSA is, they don’t have the money, because they depend on federal money,” Fines said. “Block grants.”

“They get a portion at the beginning of the year, and that’s just what they get,” LeSage added. “We get replenished several times through different programs.”

Requests are met based on immediacy of need. Cosmetic upgrades or updates are not considered critical repairs, and are ineligible for the program.

If you can answer “yes” to all of these questions, you may qualify for the Critical Home Repair program:

∫ Do you live in Alcona, Alpena or Presque Isle counties?

∫ Do you own your home and the land it is on?

∫ Are your property taxes current?

∫ Is your homeowner’s insurance current?

∫ Are you unable to obtain traditional financing?

Homeowners seeking repairs will be responsible for paying back a portion of the repair costs, based on their income.

“People come in here and think we’re just gonna do this for free,” Fines said. “We like to see a little bit of skin in the game when it comes to home ownership, or these critical home repairs. Because we don’t want to get the reputation that we’re just doing this for free.”

He said requiring the homeowner to pay back a percentage of the repair over time gives them a sense of ownership and partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

“A lot of times that covers part of it, but we get the feeling and they get the feeling that we’re all part of a team here, and we’re trying to get things done, and we don’t do it for free,” Fines said, adding that the agreement is to pay back a portion of the cost at zero percent interest.

“Some of the grants will cover, like $7,000 or $7,500, so if their repairs are over that, we only do a payment arrangement on what wasn’t covered,” LeSage explained. “So, they’re happy to only pay back $1,000 instead of $7,500.”

Fines noted that a recent critical home repair in Mikado included the replacement of a septic field, tank and entire system, for a total cost of roughly $10,000. The homeowner will only have to pay back $1,200, thanks to the grant monies that covered the majority of the repair.

If monetary repayment is not feasible, Habitat for Humanity will work with the applicant and see if they can volunteer at the ReStore or something else to repay the debt in kind, LeSage said.

“The funny thing to me, right now, is that we’re getting more people from outside of our area asking for help than what we are actually in Alpena,” LeSage noted.

“We cover Alcona, Alpena and Presque Isle counties, but we get calls from Montmorency, Oscoda County, and Iosco County,” Fines said, adding that there are “no active Habitat affiliates in those three counties. So we’re actually covering six counties. And, it’s a stretch, but we’re doing it.”

He added that they subcontract many of the jobs out to local contractors in the area.

“We will find a way of getting it done,” Fines said.

LeSage said that if someone applies for one repair, the program includes a home inspection so that any other repairs are addressed as well, for the safety and health of the residents.

Both the Critical Home Repair and Habitat Home Ownership programs are based on income, but the income limits vary based on household size, so anyone who thinks they may be eligible should apply.

“Affordable home ownership is such a critical area,” Fines added.

If you can answer “yes” to all of these questions, you may qualify for the Habitat Home Ownership program:

∫ Do you live in Alcona, Alpena or Presque Isle counties?

∫ Do you currently live in substandard housing, currently rent your residence, or live with family or friends?

∫ Are you currently without a mortgage?

∫ Are you willing to perform “sweat equity” and help build your home? (Alternate methods of performing sweat equity are available to those with physical limitations.)

∫ Are you unable to obtain traditional financing, but are able to make monthly payments?

“Most of these families that are coming to us, if they had good credit, they wouldn’t need us,” Fines noted. “The bank’s not going to help you, so we do. And that may take a while. That may take a year. It may take two years.”

Habitat for Humanity is unable to assist with immediate housing needs, but they can provide other community resources for you to contact if your housing situation is of a critical nature.

To apply for either program, fill out an application at the Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan office, at 1600 W. Chisholm St., Suite B, inside the north entrance of the First Presbyterian Church in Alpena.

For more information, call LeSage at 989-354-5854, or go to habitatnemi.org and click on the “Our Programs” tab.