By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Leader & Times
With a new year, the Housing and Community Development Department is preparing to offer assistance with new homes as well as improvement for new homes with three very high demand programs funded by the 1-cent sales tax.
“We have three programs that senior citizens or people with disabilities can use and apply for,” Housing and Community Development Director Karen LaFreniere said. “They are for weatherization, exterior enhancement or emergency repairs. They can do one program a year. If they do weatherization this year, they can’t do it next year – they would have to do something else.”
The weatherization program, LaFreniere said, will allow a homeowner up to $3,000 to make necessary weatherization improvements to their homes.
“Weatherization, they can do insulation, windows, doors and things like that to weather proof their house,” LaFreniere said. “With the weatherization, they can apply for up to $3,000.”
Exterior enhancement will allow for a variety of improvements to improve the homes curb appeal.
“With the exterior enhancement program, they can have their house painted, porch and driveway repair, and even a roof repair,” LaFreniere said. “With this program, applicants can apply for up to $2,000.”
The emergency repair program will allow for specific improvements that simply cannot wait to be repaired, LaFreniere said.
“Emergency repair, they can qualify for something that breaks such as plumbing, electrical, mechanical, heater, air conditioner and things like that,” she said. “As with exterior enhancement, they can apply for up to $2,000.”
LaFreniere would like to make clear that if a contractor’s bill reaches a certain amount that may be substantially below the allotted $2,000 or $3,000, the contractor’s bid is what will be paid by the city.
“Regarding the funding limits, that means if it costs $500 to fix something, that is what they are going to get – $500.”
LaFreniere said the City of Liberal is trying to make the application process, which includes obtaining a bid for projects, as simple as possible for those participating in the programs.
“When they bring in their application, if they know they meet the criteria, income guidelines and things like that, they can bring a bid in at the same time, that is usually easier for them,” she said. “The bid just needs to be from a licensed contractor in the City of Liberal. Only one bid is needed, we aren’t going to make them go around and look for a several.
“There are actually several businesses that kind of participate because they know they have to do the work before they are going to get paid,” she explained. “That is why we appreciate those people who work with our program.”
The first-time buyer program is another city incentive LaFreniere is proud to announce will continue this year.
“We do have our first-time home buyer money again,” she said. “That is $3,000 for down payment assistance. And that, of course, is income-based. They need an application about a month before they close on their house. They can’t come in and say, ‘I’m closing next week’ and get this done.
“They have to have a home buyer education class, and we offer that once a month,” she added. “The homebuyer education class basically tells you about the mortgage you are getting, what your payment is going to consist of – principle, interest, taxes and insurance. I like to see if they have any questions about it and make sure they read over their contracts and settlement statements and things like that.”
These particular programs are funded by the 1-cent sales tax, therefore family incomes may be a bit higher than those wishing to qualify for federal programs.
“In our department, we have different programs funded by grants, those are for low income,” she said. “The programs funded by the 1-cent sales tax are based through the city and have income guidelines that are a little higher that what you would see going for a federal grant or something like that. It is 125 percent, so it is a little bit above the median income, depending on your family size.
“This is the same income base we are using for the senior citizen programs and programs for those with disabilities,” she continued. “We want to catch more people because it is a local program. These are all 1-cent sales tax funded and so is the Safe at Home program with the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.”
Not only do these particular programs help the homeowners, they also generate economic development throughout the City of Liberal, LaFreniere said.
“It is helpful not only to the people who live in those houses, but also the contractors that are working on those houses, then you have to remember the businesses that the materials are purchased from,” she said. “It circulates a lot of activity within the city. They are good programs. It really brings up our housing stock a lot, because those houses are eventually going to sell and they are going to have new windows and doors. It is helpful to the people that are in them now and then the next group.”
Although supplies are currently low, LaFreniere said she will soon be ordering more smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. She said these items are free to all City of Liberal residents. This particular program, also funded by the 1-cent sales tax is called the Safe At Home Program.
“Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are available at city hall and the north fire station,” she said. “However, more are being ordered to continue to meet demands. Just come in and write the address on the application, fill it out and we give them the detector they need. It is not income based, it is just for anyone who wants one. They will be available for as long as supplies last.”
These programs described by LaFreniere are just a small percentage of 1-cent sales tax funded programs. When many think of the 1-cent sales tax, it is associated with the Adventure Bay Family Water Park or the Western Avenue improvements. But in reality, with the 1-cent sales tax the City of Liberal has the opportunity to personally help citizens one family at a time.