Belfast awarded $300,000 grant to improve low-income housing
Belfast — The city of Belfast was awarded a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant, a U.S. Housing and Urban Development program in its 40th year, which it will use to rehabilitate substandard housing occupied by low- to moderate-income tenants.
After Belfast received its first $300,000 CDBG in 2011, the city council appointed a Housing Assistance Advisory Committee to draw up guidelines for the city's new housing rehabilitation program. Forty-one rental units in nine Belfast properties were rehabilitated through that program.
Project Administrator Ron Harriman said the program's purpose is to correct hazardous health conditions, make buildings code-compliant and provide affordable housing for low-income tenants.
The funding targets health, safety, and energy efficiency rather than cosmetic improvements, he noted. Examples of projects the program has funded include insulation, plumbing, roofing, heating and siding improvements, as well as lead paint removal.
After holding a workshop in March with interested property owners to discuss ways the program could be improved, the advisory committee revised guidelines for administering the current grant, which was pending at the time.
The city council approved the revisions, which include a reduction from three to two in the minimum number of units a building must have to be eligible, and an added requirement that the income of owners in owner-occupied buildings must be included in income-eligibility determinations.
Harriman said income eligibility is based on 80 percent of the county's median income and the size of the household.
Federal and state requirements for the CDBG program stipulate that at least 51 percent of units in a building must be occupied by income-qualified tenants (in a two-unit building, one unit can qualify), rent levels for assisted units must not exceed state-established fair market rent levels for five years after the rehabilitation, and 20 percent of the improvement costs must be paid by the property owner or supplied in materials or qualifying self-help.
The maximum a single unit can receive from the program for improvements is $10,000, and a single building or property owner can not receive more than $50,000.
Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge said the contract with the state should be ready in September or October, at which point work can be put out to bid. The city will have 18 months to complete the program.
Harriman said most of the properties to be rehabilitated have been selected from applicants who submitted letters of interest during the application phase of the program. He said whether the city will be soliciting any more letters of interest from property owners is yet to be determined.
"I'm optimistic this will be a really good program that benefits tenants, provides affordable housing, and spruces up neighborhoods," Harriman said.