Media Archive

Housing program helps homes with heating, safety

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 3, January 15, 2003

By Ben Bragdon
Staff Writer

GREENVILLE Towns across Piscataquis County are continuing their participation in a program that allows families to make much-needed home improvements, even pulling in neighboring municipalities as partners in the grant-hunting process.

Over the next month public hearings will be held in Milo, Dover-Foxcroft and Greenville as officials take the first step in reapplying for a number of $400,000 Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) to fund a housing rehabilitation program, which coordinates and pays for home improvements to single-family, owner-occupied homes for those who fit within certain income guidelines.

Families outside of those three towns have been able to benefit from the program due to partnerships formed through the years out of need and geographical proximity. Atkinson, Sebec, and Sangerville have all joined in with Dover-Foxcroft, and Omeville applies along with Milo. Two more towns come into the mix in this grant cycle as Shirley applies alongside Greenville, and Brownville lines up with Milo and Orneville.

The housing program has been a success so far in the area. In nine years around 150 homes have been improved under Dover's grant. Last year Greenville grant, the first in that town, will end up aiding over 25 homes when all is said and done, said grant administrator Ron Harriman.

Applications for home improvements are submitted to Harriman and the various towns, where they are organized based on just how pressing the structure's problems have become. "Our priority is to make the home safer and more energy efficient."said Harriman. "Sometimes the improvements we make aren't too visible from outside. It might be a heating system or a septic system or a new chimney."

Harriman often coordinates his efforts with Penquis CAP in Dover-Foxcroft, a non-profit agency whose weatherization and heating system projects at times overlap the improvement program. "When we do a project we always talk with them," he said, " and if they can do a little piece of it then there is a little bit we don't have to spend."

Sometimes the owners themselves, who are often skilled at home repair, pitch in to make the funds more effective. "By using their labor, we 'are able to save money and stretch our dollars a little further," said Harriman. "So when someone is able-bodied and has enough knowledge to do certain improvements, we encourage it."

The work is given to the lowest qualified bidder, Harriman points out, which helps support local contractors, and that home improvements throughout a town cause an indirect benefit to the town's neighborhoods.

Harriman is contracted by the towns to apply for the grant and administer the funds to the parties involved. Harriman's firm receives a small amount to write the grant application, and then a percentage, usually 10 to 15 percent, of the grant once it is awarded to pay for staff and office costs associated with running the program.

While the program has thus far run smoothly enough to attract new towns while satisfying the current participants, it has not been without its problems. A project in Greenville involving the complete rebuilding of a house from the ground up, the first and, so far, only of its kind under Harriman's watch, stretched on way past schedule. Unlike the others, Harriman said, the completion of that project hinged on a loan from a federal agency, which Harriman or Penquis CAP, also involved, had no control over.

"It went much, much longer than I would like to see," said Harriman, who added that lessons learned would
be applied to any complete rebuilds done in the future, though the focus of the program remains home improvements, not reconstruction.

Greenville Town Manager John Simko said he is pleased with Harriman's work in Greenville, and is glad to have Shirley on board for the next grant. Simko, who has experience administering these grants himself, said that Harriman takes care of a job that would otherwise prove too time-consuming for the town.

"I have seen a lot of these (grants), and I think he does a pretty good job," Simko said. "Our experience so far in Greenville has been positive."

Brownville Town Manager Sophie Wilson has watched rehabilitation projects operate in Milo and Omeville over the past couple of years, and is excited to see families in her town have an opportunity to benefit.

"We are seeing a lot of need in the community," she said. "We were very eager to accept the invitation. I am very excited to see it begin."

Residents in Greenville and Shirley can attend a public hearing on the housing rehabilitation program Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 6 p.m. in the Greenville Town Office. Dover-Foxcroft, Sebec, Sangerville, and Atkinson residents will have their hearing Monday, Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m. at the Thompson Free Libary Community Room. The hearing for Milo, Omeville and Brownville will be in the Milo Town Hall Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m.

A family of two must have under $25,900 in annual income to qualify, with the income threshold rising by around $3,250 for each additional family member. Confidentiality is considered a priority in the program.

Any questions regarding the grant can be addressed to the local town office, or you can reach Harriman at 1-800-648-8335.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.