Landlords looking to make improvements to low-income rental units in Belfast may qualify for up to $10,000 per unit or $50,000 per building as part of a new grant program for multi-unit buildings.

The Rental Housing Rehabilitation Grant Program, which focuses on safety and energy efficiency improvements, is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and distributed as a Community Development Block Grant through the state’s Office of Community Development.

Belfast, which received a total of $300,000, was one of six communities in Maine to be awarded money under the program this year.

According to Ron Harriman, a private consultant who is administering the grant on behalf of the city, the money can be used for insulation, heating systems, roofing, windows or code compliance issues like electrical improvements.

“Basically anything that the property needs aside from interior cosmetics,” he said.

In order to qualify for the grants, a building must have three or more apartments and have a certain percentage of low-to-moderate-income tenants. Taxes must be paid up to date and building owners are required to put up a 20-percent match and agree to keep the rent at an affordable level for a period of five years after the improvements are made.

Generally, however, Harriman said the application process is designed to be simple to encourage building owners to take advantage of the program.

“The fear a lot of people have with a government program is that the regulations are going to bury them, and this really is a user-friendly program,” he said. “We try to keep it as uncomplicated as we can, but there are some stipulations. It’s not just money that’s handed over without some goals being reached.”

To this end, the money is designated for rental units only and specifically for non-owner-occupied buildings. Harriman said owner-occupied buildings would not be ruled out, but that in those cases there would be an effort to ensure the money was used in the rental units only.

“It really is an opportunity for property owners to get work done that they’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” he said. “It is very expensive to maintain these buildings. So, this is a chance to get it done.”

Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge, who wrote the grant for the city, said there are approximately 25 buildings in Belfast with three or more rental units but that the other requirements would rule some of these out.

“I don’t think we’ll do more than six or seven grants, as we have $50,000 as a maximum per property and we only have $300,000 to give out,” he said.

Harriman said the number of individual grants would depend on the number of applicants and what kind of improvements are needed at each residence.

“If we maxed out on units, at $10,000 a unit, which is unlikely, we would only do 25 units,” he said. “But still, that’s a pretty big number.”

Applications are available at City Hall or online through the city’s website. For more information, contact Ron Harriman at grantron@aol.com, or 947-8595.