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January 29, 2014 - Ortonville- Eileen Bradley and her husband Ed built their home in the village in 1953.

Ed was a carpenter and took care of home maintenance, but he died several years ago and Eileen found herself last spring in a difficult situation with home repairs that needed to be done.

"Things wear down and it was getting shabby like," said Eileen, 81. "I have family, but they are busy with work."

In stepped help in the form of the Oakland County Community and Home Improvement Division. Bradley learned about the division's home improvement loan program through the Edna Burton Senior Center's newsletter. The home improvement program offers zero interest deferred loans to qualified individuals for home repairs, with no repayment as long as the owner remains in the residence.

"Our goal is to assist low and moderate income people," said Gordon Lambert, chief of operations for the Community and Home Improvement Division. "We service many senior citizens. Often, they have a nice home, and a husband dies and the pension goes away. The widow has limited income and is making do, but needs a roof, a well, or a septic system. That's why we're here to help."

The home improvement loans cover almost any repair that is needed. Besides roofs, wells and septics, other common improvements include basement waterproofing, bathrooms, chimneys, doors, electrical and heating systems, insulation, kitchens, plumbing, porches, siding, structural defects, and windows. Home additions and garages are excluded.

In Eileen's case, she needed new windows, a new kitchen door, new water pipes and repairs to her basement stairs, which were weak in spots and "scary."

She called the Oakland County Home Division last spring and applied. To receive a home improvement loan, residents must meet income guidelines and provide proper documentation. A single homeowner must have a gross income less than $36,200 annually. For a family of four, the income must be less than $51,700. The homeowner must not be in arrears on their taxes and have equity in their home to cover the loan, however, exceptions can be made if the repair needed is one of four deemed "priority": heat, water, sewer or roof.

The home improvement loan program has been in place in Oakland County since 1975 and is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Currently, the county administers the program directly in 53 communities (a few larger communities run their own programs) and receives about 300-400 applications per year, completing about 180-200 jobs a year, with each loan averaging about $18,000, with a $2,000 contingency to cover unforeseen occurrences. Loans can range up to $30,000 when safety hazards like lead paint are involved. About $2 million is allocated from HUD to the county for the home improvement program.

"We're a one stop shop for home improvement from the cradle to the grave," said Karry Rieth, manager of the community and home improvement division. "Our technician and the homeowner compile a wish list (of repairs) and the technician completes a bid package for contractors."

The county program employs two full-time field technicians and a field services supervisor, all of whom are college educated, in the business for 20-30 years, and certified by the state. They use a very detailed, specific methodology, Lambert said, in keeping with guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state department community of health.

Requests for bids go out to six contractors, at least one of which is a business owned by a woman or minority. The lowest bidder will be selected for the work. All contractors are licensed and must be certified for lead paint removal. Contracts are between the homeowner and the business doing the work, with the county as the fiduciary.

"Our techs monitor the job from beginning to end," Lambert said. "When 60 percent of the job is done, we cut a check for 50 percent. When the job is completed, we issue the remainder of the contract cost. We want to make sure people receive what they have contracted for and the work is completed in a timely manner. We make sure homeowners are satisfied with the work completed."

Eileen was very pleased with the repairs done on her home, which also included lead paint removal.

"They found things that really needed to be done that I hadn't even thought of," she said. :It took maybe a month to get the work finished from start to end. I'm very happy with it. They did really good work."

After the work is completed, Oakland County will send a letter once a year asking if the homeowner is still in the residence. The loan must be paid back if the person moves away or dies.

"Elderly people resist coming in for help, they want to leave everything to their heirs and don't want a lein," said Reith. "But we really encourage people who have problems with their home to come to us before the roof collapses or the septic fails. You don't want your home to go into such a state of disrepair that it will be condemned."

The Oakland County Community and Home Improvement Division also has programs to help keep people in their homes when they are in danger of losing their residence to foreclosure. Certified housing specialists provide free counseling to prevent mortgage default.

"Unfortunately, we've lost numerous homes in the county to foreclosure," said Lambert. "We make every effort to assist people who live in Oakland County and are experiencing a need. Our housing counselors are aware of all the programs and will get them the maximum benefit. If you are experiencing a housing problem, you are shorting yourself by not calling."

For more information on housing counseling services or to apply for the home improvement loan program, contact the OCCHID at 248-858-5401 or toll-free at 888-350-0900 ext. 85401. Information is also available at

www.advantageoakland.com.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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