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April 16, 2014

Habitat repair program gives homes, homeowners a second chance

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Harold Allen stands near his cast iron steam boiler, which has gotten him through many winters and is in need of replacement.
Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County’s Stephanie Osterland, director of Family and Community Relationships, stands with Allen in front of his home, where he raised 14 children.  
 

PONTIAC — The home that Harold Allen, 82, raised his 14 children in with his wife for the past 43 years is still buzzing with activity.

With any number of his 68 grandchildren, 56 great-grandchildren, neighbors, friends and others dropping by, it is not hard to see why those in his neighborhood — many of whom he taught to fix cars — stop by to say “hello.”

The well-lived-in home, with a garden off to the side Allen uses when it’s warm out, was built sometime in the 1920s, and has as much character and symbolism as the small American flag wind chime hanging from the porch.

But Allen, now retired from the factory division at Ford Motor Co. after working there nearly three decades, doesn’t have to explain his home; he lets it speak for itself.

Colorful children’s craft projects hang high from the walls, and family-made decorations, such as angel figurines and a small tree-stump clock, are situated behind the head of the dining room table, where his cigarettes, lottery tickets, coupons, medication and TV remote are all within reach.

“This is my favorite spot,” he said of the sunlit room.

Allen, a man of few words, with a firecracker personality, didn’t miss a beat when describing what it meant to him to raise his children — with his now-deceased wife — in that home, which creaks from time to time.

“That, in itself, was a memory,” he said standing outside his house using a cane for support on a brisk afternoon April 8 in the 100 block of East Judson in Pontiac.        

But when Allen’s roof started leaking in two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs this past winter, he knew it was time to call someone to help save his home, because he couldn’t do it alone.

Through the Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County Critical Home Repair Program, Allen was able to replace parts of his roof through a no-cost, or no-interest, loan.

Allen said the workers who replaced parts of the roof “did a good job.”

“I think they did an excellent job,” Allen said. “I’ve been here for 43 years, and it hasn’t been replaced.”

Through the program, initiated last year, homeowners can fix everything from leaking roofs to porches sliding off their foundations.

Through grants and no-cost loans, qualified homeowners can pay off loans over a period of time up to 10 years, according to a press release.

The grant may cover a large portion of repair costs, which is great for homeowners, said Stephanie Osterland, director of Family & Community Relationships for Habitat Oakland.

With a maximum of $15,000, the no-profit loan, through the program, could cover installing new vinyl siding, replacing driveways and sidewalks, installing new copper plumbing, and more repairs.

Also, the loan and grant eligibility guidelines are the same for homeowners, Osterland said.

“It is mostly based on the repairs that the grant will cover,” she said. “The Habitat loan may cover repairs outside of what is eligible for the grant.

“That’s a huge relief when you have a major repair or home modification and you just don’t know how to afford it,” Osterland said in the release.        

The home preservation program provides needed interior and exterior repairs for low-income homeowners, so that they may stay in a safe, decent and affordable place, the Habitat website states.

To qualify, low-income Oakland County residents currently living in their owner-occupied homes must have a need, be willing to partner with the county program by helping to fix their homes and must have the ability to pay a no-profit loan without it causing them a financial burden.

Osterland said it takes a little while to qualify and go through the program, which was the case for Allen, after his daughter, Camillya Allen, 41, contacted Habitat several months ago and a construction team assessed the property and later made the repairs.

Qualified homeowners must be within income guidelines, which include having a minimum income of $13,750 and maximum of $36,600 for a family of one; for a family of eight, the income minimum is $25,900 and the maximum is $69,000, according to 2013 Habitat annual income guidelines.

Osterland said the program was designed to help maintain the integrity of the house and make sure that Habitat can do some repairs for families that can’t afford those repairs on their own, so homeowners can stay in the house, she said.

“Can you imagine if that (roof) kept leaking and leaking, and the damage that would continue to happen that would disrupt Harold’s ability to stay here? So we’re happy to get in there and get some of those repairs done. And hopefully, we can help spread the message and help more families be able to stay in their homes, which is exciting,” Osterland said.

Through project management, which typically includes volunteer labor, Habitat assists families with completing home repairs.

Currently, Allen’s cast iron steam boiler, which racks up about $800 a month in heating bills, is old, and needs to be replaced, he said.

“It takes an awful lot of gas to heat the water, to heat the cast iron boiler,” he said.

Osterland said that to have Allen’s steam boiler replaced, an application is underway to pursue grant funding.

A project like that, otherwise, would cost up to $6,000.

Although the family is hopeful that they will qualify for the funding, they are even more appreciative of the roof being fixed.

Camillya Allen said her father, and their family, are grateful for the program.

“My dad really appreciates it, and we do, too,” she said.

Habitat for Humanity, and its Oakland County affiliate, is a grassroots organization with a goal of eliminating poverty and substandard housing.         

Worldwide, Habitat has built and renovated more than 600,000 houses since 1976.

Since 1996, Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County has built and renovated homes for more than 174 families, with 16 more this year.

For more information, go to www.habitatoakland.org or call (248) 338-1843.

Eligible homeowners may receive up to $7,500 in grant funding to cover certain repairs, and any remaining work could be covered with a no-cost loan from Habitat. The total repair costs for each home cannot exceed $15,000, according to a press release.

Oakland County families and local military veterans may be able to apply for the program.

Homeowners interested in applying for a Critical Home Repair loan, and veterans interested in applying for homeownership in Oakland County, should contact Osterland at (248) 338-1843, ext. 225.

You do not need to be a Habitat homeowner to apply for the program.

Through the Macomb County Habitat for Humanity Brush With Kindness program, seniors, low-income families, disabled people, veterans and military family homeowners in need of exterior home repair services may be applicable to the program.

For more information, go to http://www.macombhabitat.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.