Help for Mobile Home OccupantsSeptember 15, 2007 - TRCOwners of older, substandard mobile homes will be assisted through a major initiative serving the communities of Brownville, Milo, Lagrange, and Alton. Penquis CAP, Inc. has received approval for a $300,000 grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The grant will be used to help occupants of pre-1978 mobile homes build and occupy new housing. The overall goal is to provide an energy efficient stick-built home for 7 occupants of substandard mobile homes. The older units that are owner occupied will be demolished and removed from the housing stock, once the replacement house is completed.According to Carlton Pinney, Penquis CAP Division Manager of the Repair and Replacement Program, ‘The homes being replaced are well past their useful life expectancy, and have depreciated to the point that many have essentially no market value. Homeowners are experiencing asset deprecation, rather than asset building, which only helps keep them in poverty and out of the economic mainstream. This project will help people make the transition into a modest quality, energy efficient stick built home.’ Penquis CAP has partnered with the Tri-County Technical Center in Dexter, the multi-town CDBG housing rehabilitation program, Maine Stream Finance, and the Three Rivers Community Alliance to develop this program.Participants in the owner-occupied portion of the grant will be assisted with grant funds, and will be expected to seek loan funds through the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development 502 Loan Program. USDA is another key partner, helping to underwrite loans to deserving homeowners. This partnership will be able to provide a combination of grant and loan funds that is affordable to the homeowner, and will help extend the impact of this project. Another aspect of the project that will help expand the benefits is the involvement of the Tri-County Technical Center. They will train students in their building programs to construct 3 modular units that upon completion will be transported to approved projects. To assist homeowners secure needed funds a ‘Home Replacement Counseling Program’ has been developed. Offered by MaineStream Finance, this counseling program provides free one-on-one counseling to eligible homeowners. The goal is to help those seeking replacement housing to improve their ability to secure home financing. Program participants will be helped with such things as budgeting, improving their credit, and following a tailored plan. According to Kevin Washburn of MaineStream Finance, ‘the counseling program was developed to address the high rejection rate of applicants to the Rural Development 502 program, despite its customer friendly underwriting requirements, and help boast the number of people who can qualify for this and other financing needed to replace older substandard homes’. Washburn noted that while grant funds will fill an important gap, the program will not be successful without the involvement of loan funds. Once targeted grant funds are included, Washburn noted that households with good credit and incomes as low as $10-12,000 can borrow funds to help develop new housing. Program flyers for the counseling program have been distributed to town offices and other groups and may also be received by contacting Farrah Carmichael at MaineStream Finance at 973-3605. In addition to building owner occupied homes, the program is also seeking to improve the stock of rental housing. Limited funds will be available through a matching program with landlords to rehabilitate rental housing that doesn’t meet Section 8 Housing Quality Standards. More information on the entire program will be posted regularly on the Three Rivers Community Alliance website, notices at local town offices, and by contacting Lynn Holmes of Penquis CAP at 1-800-215-4942 and asking to be kept on the distribution list for information on the Three Rivers Replacement Housing program. Actual construction is not expected to begin until 2-3 months, depending upon winter weather, and continue for up to 3 years. According to Michael Bush, Housing Developer at Penquis CAP, the key short term objective is to get occupants of substandard housing to examine their credit and try to improve their ability to become homeowners. According to Bush ‘Our goal to build safe descent housing for people can’t succeed on grant funds alone, but at the same time the grant provides important resources to fill the gap between what homeowners can afford to borrow and what replacement housing costs. Our long-term goal is to improve the housing stock in the Three Rivers area and help empower people to build assets and live in quality housing’. Both Pinney and Bush noted the strong participation by many groups and wanted to also thank the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and Maine Housing for their funding support for housing rehabilitation in the State, a portion of which funding will be directed towards this project through Penquis CAP. They also noted the strong support provided by Representative Michaud, and Senators Collins and Snowe for the rural development programs of the United States Department of Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development and the importance of this support in bringing resources to rural Maine.NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.