More than 25 residents from Searsport and Stockton Springs attended a public hearing regarding a joint application for a $500,000 housing improvement grant that would serve homeowners in both communities.

The hearing took place at the start of the regular meeting of the Searsport selectmen Tuesday night, April 16, at Union Hall.

Carlton Pinney, a private consultant from Hampden who said he had assisted with administering that type of grant in the past, explained how residents could take advantage of the funding if the towns are able to secure the grant.

As part of the federal Community Development Block Grant program, which is administered through Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development, Pinney said during a presentation for selectmen March 5 that Searsport and Stockton Springs must go in on the application, because for the first time this year, the applying entity must have a population greater than 3,000.

Tuesday night, Pinney told residents he would help the town administer the grant, noting that 15 percent of the money would go toward paying him for those services.

Interested residents, Pinney said, must be income-eligible and must own their homes; the program would only cover single-family dwellings in the two communities. The program would assist eligible homeowners with everything from roof repairs to septic and plumbing needs, and in some cases, it would provide some funding toward replacing old mobile homes with site-built structures. A person who owns a mobile home but has it situated on a rented lot could also take advantage of the program as long as they provide proof of ownership and a copy of their lease agreement, Pinney said.

For some of the larger jobs, Pinney said, homeowners would receive the needed repairs through a zero-interest loan that would span five years, and after that the town would discharge the mortgage. If the homeowner opted to sell the home in within those five years, Pinney said, they would have to repay the town the remaining balance of the loan from the proceeds of the home sale. The money from the home sale would then have to be used for similar activities.

Smaller repair jobs would be a straight grant with no expectation of reimbursement.

According to a press release from Pinney about the program, a successful applicant cannot have an income higher than 80 percent of the area's median income, depending on the size of the household. For example, a single person could not have an income greater than $30,750 to qualify, while a family of four could not have an income exceeding $43,900.

Public interest in the program, said Pinney, would make the application stronger — he circulated a sign-in sheet to show how many people attended the hearing — and he encouraged those interested in participating to fill out the pre-applications available at the Searsport Town Office to further strengthen the application.

Nancy Galland of Stockton Springs asked Pinney if repairs would include installing more environmentally friendly ways of providing heat or energy to a home, and Pinney said it would in some cases.

"I have put in some pellet stoves for folks," he said.

Waldo Community Action Partners, said Pinney, would bring in weatherization auditors to assist with that side of the program.

"Is the work done by local contractors?" asked Ann Flack of Searsport.

Pinney said he would use a pool of local contractors and rotate through the list so that all could be involved in the projects.

Galland asked if there was a ceiling for each individual project, and Pinney said the average cost of a project is about $15,000. Larger projects, said Pinney, would require proof of a health and safety issue. State law allows him to authorize as much as $40,000 in those cases, but he said he's never spent that much on one project before and the program only covers projects that directly relate to necessary home repairs.

"We're not putting in hot tubs," he said.

Pinney said the application deadline is May 3 and the towns would know whether they were successful in obtaining the funds by mid-June.

The grant process, cautioned Pinney, is highly competitive and the towns should not give up if they do not succeed in securing the funds this year.

"You've got to keep going back and back and back until you're successful," he said.