April 6, 2010 By Russell Nichols
By calling 311, residents in Fort Wayne, Ind., who need their furnace fixed, roof repaired or other retrofits now have access to home improvement grants and loans. On April 5, the city announced $700,000 in federal funds for up to 100 lucky homeowners, including seniors and individuals with disabilities, who need help with interior and exterior home repairs.
For the first time, the city's 311 call center will be used to pre-qualify applicants starting April 7, when the program opens. It's a first come, first serve basis because when 90 to 100 appointments have been made, city officials said, the programs will close. Calls will be accepted after 8 a.m. and operators will ask homeowners several questions to help determine eligibility and will set appointment times with loan specialists.
"I know the demands of home ownership, the unexpected failure of a furnace or a hole in the roof that you just don't have the resources to fix yourself," said Mayor Tom Henry in a statement. "In these tough times, these home improvement programs offer assistance to families who have been part of making our neighborhoods wonderful places to live, but whose resources are not stretching as far as they once did. With a simple call to 311, homeowners may find out that help is within reach."
To be eligible, homeowners must fall in the "under 80 percent" of Area Median Income category (i.e.: For a household of two, total annual income cannot exceed $40,500.) According to the city's Web site, here are the details of the three programs:
This program has a citywide focus to correct deficiencies in major household systems such as electrical, plumbing, HVAC or sanitary sewer.
Number to be served: estimate of 60 owner occupants
This option addresses Neighborhood Code deficiencies and the repair of roofs, windows, siding, gutters or major exterior elements.
Number to be served: estimate of 13 owner occupants
Senior and Disabled Retrofit
This is a program for persons with disabilities or age-related challenges that make it difficult for them to remain in their own homes. Renovations could include grab bars, broader doorways or bathroom remodeling to allow accessibility, as well as other repairs.
Number to be served: estimate 10 owner occupants
Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the program budgets were proportioned based on previous city requests, according to Rachel Blakeman, the city's public information officer.
"You want to make sure you have enough money to be able to help enough homeowners," she said, "but also that you provide enough funding so it's an actual solution and not just a temporary fix."
Last year, the city received more than 1,000 inquiries, about 400 paper applications were returned and some 80 projects were funded. According to James Haley, the city's IT director, the new system will streamline the process, allowing the city to serve citizens in advance who might not have the time or resources to retrieve and fill out a form for the popular program.
Through the pre-qualification process, he said, "311 will essentially fill out the form for them."
In 2007, Fort Wayne was a finalist in the Center for Digital Government's Best of the Web contest.