$1.15M supporting housing upgrades in Orange, Wendell and Charlemont

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 09-10-2023 7:15 PM

Homes in Franklin County and the North Quabbin are being brought up to code with a new round of grants.

Through the Community Development Block Grant Program, the Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority received $800,000 to be put toward rehabilitating at least 16 homes for qualifying households in Charlemont and Wendell, as well as an additional $350,000 to renovate at least seven homes in Orange. Additional funding supports the housing authority administering the housing rehabilitation program, as there are multiple levels of oversight and reporting for CDBG-funded activity.

The program distributes a maximum of $50,000 to low- and moderate-income homeowners in the form of zero-interest, deferred-payment loans, with each award depending on the work needed at the home. Eighty percent of area median income is required for income eligibility. One-fifteenth of the loan is forgiven each year for 15 years, with no money owed if the home stays in the same hands for those years. If the home is sold before 15 years pass, however, the rest of the loan will be paid off upon the sale.

“Anything that is borrowed will have a declining balance,” Brian McHugh, the Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority’s director of community development, said of the zero-interest loans. “It is a great funding mechanism that doesn’t require monthly payments.”

McHugh said the housing authority acts on behalf of the towns, applying for the Community Development Block Grants and administering the housing rehab program.

According to the housing authority’s project description, the money will be used for initial lead paint risk assessments or full lead abatement inspections, post-abatement compliance inspections and code violation corrections.

This program has fueled the rehabilitation of about 2,800 housing units across Franklin County since the early 1980s. Charlemont has participated 13 times (with the last round of funding being awarded in 2014) and Wendell has participated 16 times (most recently in fiscal year 2019), McHugh said.

In the case of Wendell and Charlemont, Wendell serves as the lead town in the grant application, and will be able to rehabilitate 11 homes. Charlemont, as a participating community, can renovate five.

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The housing authority keeps a waiting list for participating towns and lets them build up over the years, according to McHugh. When the waiting list gets a substantial number of qualifying homes, the housing authority approaches town officials and asks if they would like to apply for a grant. Qualifying homes are often referred to the housing authority by local boards of health or other social service agencies like LifePath.

“This is a great way for folks to get work done that they might not typically be able to do if they are not able to secure conventional loans,” McHugh said.

Ultimately, the rehabilitation program aims to create safe, sanitary and affordable housing in Franklin County.

An additional $20,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding will be disseminated to five social service programs, with services ranging from economic security and self-sufficiency to home delivered meals and well-being checks to elderly homebound residents to college and career readiness.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.

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