Great Barrington, Egremont to apply for block grants for housing repairs

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Interest is growing fast to participate in a federal grant program that issues forgivable loans to residents who need to make critical repairs to their homes but can't afford it.

"It's crazy," said Dawn Lemon, assistant program manager at The Resource Inc., a nonprofit group that is applying for the $1.3 million Community Development Block Grant and will administrate it for Great Barrington and eventually, Egremont residents. "My phone doesn't stop ringing. And my door is revolving."

Lemon said she already has received 48 pre-applications from Great Barrington residents since the program was announced last month. Egremont residents, however, already can apply immediately for funds issued in the last round of block grant funding for that town. So can Sandisfield and Monterey residents.

There is no cutoff date to apply. The loans are first come, first served.

The loans of up to $40,000 per household are made through the state Department of Housing and Community Development with money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The block grants are designed to help small cities and towns pay for development needs, clean up blighted areas and help low- to moderate-income residents who qualify.

The loans are zero interest, and deferred for 15 years, after which time the loan is forgiven. In the event of a sale during that time, a homeowner would pay the balance of the loan.

The minimum qualifying total household income for single resident is $18,650; the maximum income level is $93,700 for a family of eight.

Eligible projects include new roofs, septic systems, siding and windows.

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Lemon, who works from TRI's Great Barrington office, said TRI also has offices in Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, where it also secures block grants for those areas.

Through the program, homes around South County are getting critical repairs, she added.

In Sandisfield, Egremont and Monterey, 36 projects were completed since Feb. 1, 2019, using the previous year's block grants.

Other towns are also eligible for the grants. The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission already has applied for funds to help homeowners in Lenox, Lee, Clarksburg, Dalton, Stockbridge, Becket and Sheffield.

An overview of the program and applications are available on the Great Barrington Affordable Housing Trust's website.

Bill Cooke, the trust's chairman and also a town Select Board member, is thrilled with the loan program.

"It's federal money," he said. "It doesn't cost the town anything. And you can actually fix something with 40 grand."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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