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Mike’s Meanderings

Housing rehabilitation program a success

May 6, 2009
by Michael Tidemann

About two years ago, the City of Estherville stepped forward to improve the condition of existing housing in the south-central portion of the community by applying for a housing rehabilitation grant.

The grant program gives up to 10 homeowners the opportunity to fix up their homes with forgivable loans of up to $24,999. The only requirements are that the homeowners either own or be in the process of buying a home through a qualified financial institution (i.e. unfulfilled contracts for deed do not apply) and that the homeowner live on the property for a minimum of five years.

When put into perspective of $250,000 homes, the $24,999 forgivable loans don't sound like a whole lot of money. However, when you consider that the amount is probably enough to replace the siding, doors, windows and roof of a home, you can see the value of the program.

To date, five Estherville homeowners have had their homes rehabilitated through the program.

And they should be heartily congratulated. Five additional homes are on schedule for rehabilitation through the program.

As one of the investing stakeholders in the project, I was glad to see it happen. Quite frankly, I would have qualified for the program since I live in the target area and my income was within $400 of qualifying. Had I applied for the program and had my application accepted, I would have been proud to have had before and after photos taken of my home and published in the newspaper. However, I felt in my particular case it would have been a conflict of interest to apply for a forgivable loan since I made the initial contact with Carol Keizer of Northwest Iowa Planning & Development Commission who contacted the City of Estherville and wrote the project grant.

I have had at least one other stakeholder who has inquired about the program. Understandably, he would like to know what happened to his investment. I assured him that the funding is in place and it is being invested to make a significant impact on the condition of housing in Estherville, which is particularly necessary during the current economic downturn.

Since privacy issues are a concern, the City of Estherville has not published the names of those who received forgivable loans under the housing rehabilitation program. City of Estherville Community Development Director Barb Mack told me she has contacted those people and told them I would like to do a story about their homes. However, no one who has benefited from the program has yet stepped forward.

I am asking that anyone who would like to have his or her home showcased in the Daily News to call me at 362-2622. I would like to publish any before and after photos and show what an impact the housing rehabilitation program has made in Estherville.

There are a number of reasons I would like to do this.

First, it would show other Estherville homeowners, and other Emmet County communities who might be interested in a similar project, the value of the program. There were 40 applicants for 10 projects on the first go-around in Estherville. I would hope there would be at least that many applicants if the City of Estherville should decide to apply for a second housing rehabilitation grant.

Also, it would validate to stakeholders the fact that their investment went to a good cause. Obviously, anyone likes to see a return on investment. In the case of the housing rehabilitation program, there is an emotional return on one's investment by seeing housing improvements for the citizens of Estherville.

In addition to the emotional return on investment, there is also the long-term return on investment with an improvement in the housing stock in the community. Banks, real estate agents and other people who invested matching funds in the project will eventually see their investments returned when they sell those same homes or give loans for people to buy them.

I was appointed to the board of directors of the Northwest Iowa Regional Housing Trust Fund, Inc., last week. The purpose of the trust fund is very similar to that of the housing rehabilitation program.

Also administered through the Northwest Iowa Planning & Development Commission, the purpose of the trust is to use local investment to leverage state funds to improve the housing stock in the area.

Depending in income level, people may qualify for low- or no-interest loans or even outright grants to renovate their homes.

If people who have received forgivable loans through the housing rehabilitation program in Estherville are willing to step forward and let others know how well the program works, that would go far to pave the way for the future success of the Northwest Iowa Regional Housing Trust Fund.

So if you have benefited from the housing rehabilitation program in Estherville, please call me at 362-2622. Let us show the readers of the Daily News and the citizens of Estherville how valuable the housing rehabilitation program really is and give others the same opportunity you have received.

So let's all work together to make the Northwest Iowa Regional Housing Trust Fund a success.



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