Lee, Lenox, Clarksburg seek block grant money for eligible homeowners

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LENOX — Three more towns are banding together to seek a slice of a $1.3 million federal grant pie to help income-eligible homeowners make repairs and upgrade their properties.

Lenox, Lee and Clarksburg are the latest Berkshire County communities to seek Community Development Block Grant money for home improvements to qualifying low- to moderate-income homeowners. Five to eight properties could be upgraded in each town annually.

Becket, Dalton, Stockbridge and Sheffield previously partnered for this year's round of federal grants. A public hearing on the Lenox-Lee-Clarksburg program is planned for 6 p.m. Feb. 27 in Lenox Town Hall.

The grants for no-interest, forgivable loans are distributed by the state based on available annual funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Lenox Select Board member Marybeth Mitts said at a recent Town Hall meeting.

HUD, which originated the effort in the 1970s, allows communities to band together to compete for the money selected by the state to participate in the program.

Mitts explained that the number of potential eligible properties "went up precipitously this year." The HUD formula takes into account property valuation, cost burden to the homeowners and other factors to develop a "score" for every town in the state.

Out of 10 possible points, Lenox scored 8, up from 6 last year, while Clarksburg is at 9 and Lee is at 7.

The grants make up to $40,000 available for each eligible owner-occupant to make health and safety improvements.

"This is particularly important for older housing stock, between 1939 and 1979," Mitts said. The money is especially helpful for older residents on fixed incomes who have trouble keeping up with necessary maintenance, Mitts added.

Among the eligible rehabilitation projects are new roofs, foundation upgrades, window replacements, insulation enhancement and other work involving carpentry, heating/cooling, electrical, lead removal, masonry, painting and plumbing.

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The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission runs the program and determines applicants' eligibility.

Under current federal eligibility guidelines, a single-individual homeowner is eligible with income up to $49,700. A two-member household qualifies if income tops out at no more than $55,800.

Three-person households can make up to $63,900, while a household of four qualifies with maximum income of $70,950, rising in steps to $93,700 for an eight-person household. Households are defined as any combination of people, not necessarily related, living together in the same home.

The deferred loans are for 15 years. Homeowners are not required to pay anything during that time, and the loan is "forgiven" after 15 years. If a house is sold earlier, the seller would pay the remaining amount due on the loan.

"It's a really cost-effective way to make an improvement to your home," Mitts said.

The inter-local agreement among Lenox, Lee and Clarksburg states that Lenox would be the financial agent for the grant, meaning the Lenox Town Hall treasurer would handle the financial details involved with the grant.

"I think we have a very competitive application," Mitts said.

Lenox Land Use Director and Town Planner Gwen Miller noted that a strong turnout would help the towns with their grant application.

A waiting list for homeowners eligible for the assistance is being compiled. Interested applicants can contact Laura Dorr at the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to get on the list: ldorr@berkshireplanning.org or 413-442-1521, ext. 23. The deadline for sign-ups is Feb. 22.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.

This story has been updated.


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