Housing improvement opportunities available to county land owners

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

Carter County residents have the opportunity to apply for grant assistance to help with the financing of home improvements. The funding is available through a $500,000 HOME grant the county received in July from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency. County land and homeowners may apply for the funds today at the Carter County Courthouse.
   The federally funded grant program is designed to bring housing units into compliance with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards. The grant program aides in improving homes' building codes by helping residents plan for, finance, and carry out essential housing repairs.
   Last year, the First Tennessee Development District approached Carter County officials about applying for the HOME grant. The county had received the maximum rating for substandard housing units from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, and $500,000 is the maximum amount of funding that can be awarded to one county.
   Community Development Coordinator Retha Patton notified former County Executive Truman Clark of the county's eligibility for the one-time grant. She stated that the need for housing improvements across the county made it a good candidate for the HOME grant.
   "It is a highly competitive grant. Out of 100 applications only the top 15 counties get funded, so that demonstrates that Carter County has a strong need," Patton said. "It was one of the top rated counties based on substandard housing units, and that is why we urged them to go after it."
   The grant is exclusive to landowners and may be used to improve plumbing, electrical work, foundations and sub-flooring, as well as roofs, and window and door replacements. The work will be completed by local contractors at no cost to qualifying landowners.
   In order to qualify for the grant, residents must meet low to moderate income guidelines, provide proof that they own their home and the land where it is located for at least one year, have all property taxes paid up to date, and live permanently within the rural confines of Carter County.
   Elizabethton residents are not able to apply for the grant because the city is considered a municipality and is eligible for the same funding. Patton said it would be considered double dipping if city residents were able to receive both county and city grant money for housing improvements.
   The $500,000 grant impacts more than just the structural soundness of county homes. Health and safety concerns are also addressed along with the improvements, and the county's property tax roll stands to benefit from the increases in property value.
   "The owners will receive some housing repairs to bring their houses up to standard, which improves their quality of life and increases Carter County's housing stock in general. At the same time it puts more property tax on the roll because the improvements increase the value of homes in the county," Patton said.
   The workshop begins at 3:30 p.m. today at the main courthouse. Applications will be handed out and individual interviews will be scheduled for the week of Feb. 24-28. All applicants will be scored by program criteria and will be prioritized according to those scores. Everyone who qualifies for the funding may not receive grant assistance because of its limited amount.
   Patton stated that it is important for homeowners to be aware of the fact that they will only be able to apply for the HOME grant once. The funding is not available to the county in the future, and applications will be received today only.
   "The sad part is that it is a time limited grant. It is a one-time allocation of funds that is not continuous, so it is a one-time shot in the arm," Patton said.