Lending a Neighborly Hand: LISC program helps repair homeowner blues

May 15th, 2017

Lending a Neighborly Hand: LISC program helps repair homeowner blues

The Detroit HUB
By E.B. Allen

Rainy days were giving Lillie Gibson something even worse than the blues.

A resident of the same east side Detroit home since 1969, Gibson began equating soggy days outdoors with soggy days indoors, after her roof began to deteriorate.

Almost 600 homeowners have been approved for work.

“I was sitting here one day and it had poured down rain,” she recalls. “I don’t know what made me get up, but the minute I got up, the whole side of the dining room where I had been sitting fell in.”

About a year ago, Gibson was able to see what she described as her “nightmare” brought to an end when she found help through the Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corp.’s zero-percent-interest Home Repair Loan Program. Launched in partnership with the City of Detroit and Bank of America, the loan allowed Gibson to replace roofing and add siding to the house where she’d raised four sons.

Gone are the days when Gibson gathered pails and containers to collect water that poured into her kitchen, dining room, and living room. She recalls the first rain in spring 2016, after her repairs had been complete – and her floor was completely dry.

“I burst out crying and said, ‘Thank you, Jesus!’” she says.

The two-year-old program, funded through private and public sources, including community development block grants, has led to 267 projects completed for residents like Gibson. Almost 600 homeowners have been approved for work.

Detroit LISC says word of the available support to homeowners is beginning to spread.

“I get a lot of people who say, ‘My neighbor was in this program. I see them getting their home done,’” says Damon Thompson, senior program officer.

The minimum loan approval amount is $5,000 and the maximum loan is $25,000. Qualifying repairs range from “full gut” kitchen rehabs or lead abatement work to roof improvements, like Gibson’s. Homeowners can repay the loans for 10 years, including in escrow.

Guidelines for successful applications are prioritized according to health and safety, code violations and general home improvement.

“The beauty of this program,” says Thompson, “is you can pretty much use it to cover your entire house.”

Intake centers, including Wayne Metro Community Action Agency’s three sites, serve as a first point of contact for residents hoping to have their applications reviewed. Other centers include Bridging Communities, Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corp., Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance, Detroit Non-Profit Housing Corp., Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit, Jefferson East, Inc., New Hope Community Development, Operation ABLE, SER Metro Detroit, Southwest Economic Solutions, and U SNAP BAC.

If necessary, applicants may be referred for credit counseling. Along with a minimum credit score of 560, status of current in property tax payments – or three months of payments toward an outstanding tax amount – owners must have, at least, six months occupancy in the home.

Among approved applicants, who represent about $7 million that doesn’t include loan requests still being reviewed, the average age is 58. The average annual income in $42,000.

“At the end of the day, we want as many people as possible to access this program,” says Thompson.

Benefits to residents are only part of the gain generated by the Home Repair Loan Program. Demitris Armstrong, president of D&A Construction, is among contractors who have gained approved access to a bidding pipeline of work through the City of Detroit.

“The homeowners we’ve dealt with have been very positive and thoroughly appreciative,” says Armstrong.

D&A, which has operated in Detroit about 40 years, has completed work at about 15 houses through the Home Repair Loan Program. Along with helping keep his small staff afloat, Armstrong says participating in an initiative that supports residents in local neighborhoods has its own rewards.

“It’s been a very positive thing for the company,” Armstrong adds. “We do work for the seniors and try to keep them living in the city.”

“I think, more than anything, it’s the satisfaction the homeowners have,” he adds. “To see the satisfaction on their faces, I can sense their relief.”

Tahirih Ziegler, executive director of Detroit LISC, calls the program a means for residents to play an active role in revitalizing the city by reinvesting in their homes.

“The use of long-standing local partners as intake centers allows homeowners to work with organizations they are already familiar with,” Ziegler says. “This product for financing home repair will support existing residents, to stabilize their neighborhoods and make Detroit more attractive to new residents and businesses.”

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