City launches $30 million home repair program for low-income residents

A new program aims to replace 1,000 roofs for low-income seniors and homeowners with disabilities in Detroit, city officials announced Thursday.

Funded by $30 million in federal U.S. bailout dollars, the program is the first initiative to stem from more than $400 million in pandemic recovery dollars the city of Detroit has received, and will triple how much the city currently spends on its existing home repair program.

“We’ve seen literally hundreds of thousands of Detroiters leave the city in the last 20 or 25 years. We wanted to prioritize the homeowners who stayed and reward them for it,” Mayor Mike Duggan said at a news conference Thursday.

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The first phase of the program, for which applications are submitted Friday through October 31, is expected to replace 1,000 roofs. Eighty percent of the requests the city gets through its senior home repair program are for new roofs, Duggan said, and 50% of Detroiters are turned down for weathering grants because they have bad roofs.

The next phase, which is due to start in a year, is expected to deliver additional repairs for an additional 500 homes. The city has not yet determined what that work will entail, but it could include electrical or plumbing repairs, Duggan said.

There are three eligibility criteria for this program: the homeowner must be 62 years of age or older or a person of any age with a disability; they must be approved for a poverty tax exemption through the Homeowners Property Tax Assistance Program (HPTAP), now called the Homeowner Property Exemption (HOPE); and they must not have received a home repair grant from the city of $10,000 or more in the past decade.

Homeowners are chosen based on how long they’ve had their home, their level of poverty relief (meaning the lower their income, the higher their priority), the number of people in the home, and whether they’re already on a waiting list for home repairs or weather influences.

No more names will be added to an existing home repair program with a waiting list of 1,961 seniors, Duggan said. Those on that list will keep their place, but are encouraged to sign up for the new program as well.

Officials urged Detroiters to include a exemption from poverty tax, which is a requirement to qualify for the roof repairs. The deadline to apply for a Poverty Tax Exemption is November 12.

“We have to remember that we still have homeowners, in addition to the home repairs they need, (who) are still struggling with paying their back taxes,” said Willie Donwell, administrator of the property appraisal committee.

The Rocket Community Fund, part of the Rocket Companies, funds a call center and hotline for the program.

“We’ve seen so many times that many people who are behind on their property taxes invest critical dollars in their back taxes, rather than in repairs,” said Laura Grannemann, vice president of the Rocket Community Fund.

Civil society organizations and researchers have said the scale of repair needs in Detroit is staggering and the programs available are difficult to tap into.

There were more than 24,000 moderately or severely deficient homes in Detroit, according to the University of Michigan study in 2020, which analyzed data from the 2017 American Housing Survey. These could be houses with broken toilets, no working cooking equipment, rats in the unit and exposed wiring and water leaks.

Ryan Ruggiero, the lead investigator of the UM study, said it’s great to see the city prioritize seniors based on length of home ownership and focus on roof repairs, as existing programs for seniors have long waiting lists or funding. be used up quickly.

“We think home repair is a critical issue — one of the most critical issues Detroiters face — because it relates primarily to housing stability, but also the other things that can lead to it, such as providing a foundation for economic opportunities for wealth building and of course for seniors, the ability to age in place,” said Patrick Cooney, deputy director for policy impact at UM’s Poverty Solution initiative.

Across the country, 51% of households live in homes built before 1980, compared to 90% in Detroit and 68% in metro Detroit, a recent report from the Washington, DC-based Urban Institute. In both areas, a higher proportion of black households live in houses built before 1960. Older homes may need maintenance and extensive repairs.

Residents in The Islandview neighborhood in Detroit and East Davison Village recently even took matters into their own hands by raising money online for critical home repairs.

The city is looking for Detroit contractors to make the repairs, Duggan said.

Approved applicants for the new program are expected to be notified on February 1, 2022, and repairs are expected to begin in the spring of that year and be completed within two years.

For more information, visit www.detroitmi.gov/RenewDetroit. Applications can be completed online or by phone at 313-244-0274 between 9am and 6pm Monday through Saturday.

Nushrat Rahman covers economic mobility issues for the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Detroit as a corps member at Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA.

Contact Nushrat: [email protected]; 313-348-7558. Follow her on Twitter: @NushratR. Sign up for Bridge Detroit Newsletter. Become a Free Press subscriber.

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