$1 million granted to local towns

Friday, July 15, 2011

Two Marshall County towns have been selected for federal grants totaling $1 million to renovate low-income homes or, if that's not practical, demolish them and build another dwelling.

The Boards of Mayor and Aldermen in Petersburg and Chapel Hill on Monday authorized the mayors to sign documents to accept the two $500,000 grants authorized by the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency.

HOME Program grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have helped residents in Petersburg during the early 1990s, according to Coralee Holloway, director of community programs for THDA, an arm of state government led by a board of directors instead of a commissioner.

Lewisburg and other Marshall County households have been assisted, but now THDA's grading matrix on applications revealed Petersburg and Chapel Hill to have achieved the highest scores.

"We're excited," Petersburg Town Recorder Dawn Forlines said Thursday morning.

Chapel Hill Mayor Carl Cooper said, "We're happy for it."

On Monday, both towns signed agreements with the Jackson, Tenn.-based community development firm of Nelson Thornton Consultants. Randy Nelson, the firm's president visited the Marshall County towns last winter. Nelson Thornton Consultants' company officer Bob Thornton was here Monday.

Their firm assembled information from the towns, filed grant applications to THDA and the results included a press conference at Petersburg Town Hall on Thursday morning.

Nelson Thornton Consultants announced on its Web site Monday that the following towns were also awarded THDA HOME Program grants: McKenzie, $250,000; Saltillo, $365,749; Savannah, $365,749; and Trenton, $279,562. Nelson Thornton also filed successful grant applications under various other programs for other communities.

Congress has funded the HOME Program with appropriations to HUD's Home Investment Partnership Program and for this federal fiscal year, "HUD allocated $15.4 million to Tennessee and the state designated THDA as the administrator of the funding," Holloway said.

The HOME Program's name is not an acronym. Capitalization of HOME in the program's name is a result of congressional action.

In South Central Tennessee, according to Holloway, two other communities received HOME Program grants. They are Lawrence County and the town of St. Joseph.

Having previously participated in administrative roles for HOME Program grants, County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett congratulated the two towns and agreed that the following could serve as a general overview on what the HOME Program does under the following scenario.

A family of modest means survives on its own as young parents raise children and earn income and retirement benefits. The children grow up, move away for their own careers and, as frequently happens, the father dies before the mother. She survives on his pension and Social Security, but in time, finds herself without the means to maintain the house. Roof leaks go undetected until serious problems reveal themselves. A lack of insulation allows high power bills to consume much of the widow's fixed income. Other rising costs prompt her to make difficult spending decisions and, again, maintenance like painting is postponed, or a broken window is repaired with duct tape.

The widow's home needs repairs to make it safe, to prevent decay, or to bring it up to current building standards, and that's one of five standards for participation in the HOME Program as set forth in documents provided to Petersburg and Chapel Hill.

Because Petersburg is a town resting in both Marshall and Lincoln counties, the 2011 income limits for participation are listed for both counties in that town's document. The income limits for Marshall County apply to Chapel Hill residents who might qualify for participation. For example, a widow living alone could be helped if her income was less than $30,450 in Lincoln County, or $30,600 if she lived in Marshall County.

A couple including a handicapped spouse might not be able to overcome their income limitations, Liggett noted when expanding on the generalized example of who's helped by the HOME Program. Two persons living in Chapel Hill or the Marshall County part of Petersburg could be helped if the household income is less than $35,000, according to a chart setting forth federal guidelines. A couple with income of no more than $34,800 in the Lincoln County part of Petersburg could participate if other criteria are met, too.

Another qualification for participation is that all city and county property taxes must be paid on the owner-occupied house. The HOME Program isn't going to help a landlord improve rental property.

And, there cannot be a conflict of interest between those who are helped and the towns' officials or the grant administrators.

Petersburg Alderman Corey Smith on Thursday morning indicated that homeowners would be selected in a way to avoid favoritism.

As the two $500,000 grants were announced in a joint press conference in Petersburg on Thursday, the executive committee of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board was advised on Tuesday that grant papers were signed, Cooper said.

The JECDB is a state-mandated panel including, in Marshall County, a Three Star Housing Committee that has sought to establish a Habitat for Humanity program for the county, and it has been the panel assigned by Liggett to make neutral decisions on which household would benefit from the HOME Program's funding.

"The town does not really have its hands on the money," Cooper said. "It is for the people ... who live within the town limits.

"It's something that just seemed right for people who need help and couldn't afford it, and, with that said, we made up our minds to go with these people (Nelson Thornton) and the board agreed," the mayor said.