BY JENNIFER BAILEY
Vermilion Heights will be the newest neighborhood the city will move to for its owner-occupied housing rehabilitation program.
The program for 2013-2014 will utilize 20 percent of the year’s Community Development Block Grant funding to rehabilitate no less than five homes within the area bounded by the North Fork of the Vermilion River to the east, and the city’s corporate limits on the remaining three sides.
The home rehabs will start on the north side of the highway, U.S. Route 150, said John Dreher, neighborhood development manager with the city.
“We’ll see how that goes. (It) gives them a little confidence and a little bit of investment and helps with house sales …,” he said.
The purpose of the program is that a little investment on one side can help spur some investment on the other side of the street, too, Dreher said, drawing out private investment.
“It hopes to steady things out (and restore) confidence and encouragement in a neighborhood,” he added.
Dreher said many of the rehabilitations are homes of retirees in which if the city doesn’t help to fix a roof, the homes could become uninhabitable.
“Many of our rehabs are demolition avoidance,” Dreher said.
The program officially starts with the city’s new fiscal year on May 1, but Dreher said funding usually doesn’t come in until around September.
Soon the city likely will be sending out letters to Vermilion Heights residents to get ideas and wishes for eligible homeowners.
Dreher cautioned the city doesn’t want to see homeowners stop fixing their homes waiting on possible CDBG funding. There is limited funding and city officials don’t want to get a lot of peoples’ hopes up.
The rehabs almost always include roof replacements, furnaces, water heaters, electrical upgrades or repairs, plumbing repairs and energy efficiency measures to lower the owner’s utility costs.
Dreher adds the Vermilion Heights neighborhood has stability, but is seeing older homes.
The 300 approximate residences in the neighborhood are almost all single-family detached homes. It’s predominately owner-occupied, with fewer than 15 percent being rental housing. The neighborhood was developed between 1900 and 1950.
About 50 percent of the structures were built prior to 1950, according to the city’s Annual Action Plan.
A survey of structural conditions conducted in 2010 found that 86 houses are rated good, 213 fair and one was rated as poor.
In the city’s rating system, a fair designation denotes housing that is acceptable but also showing some need for rehabilitation and reinvestment.
There also is a successful neighborhood association there.
Census data from 2010 including the neighborhood shows the per capita income level between $16,000 and $26,000 per year.
The city’s plan, however, states the income level is likely lower due to the census block group being larger than the neighborhood and it includes more affluent rural areas outside city limits.
The program calls for about $34,000 in rehabilitation work per home.
City officials will prioritize eligible applicants. Initial goals are to preserve the exterior of the home and maintain a weather-proof environment.
Next, health and safety issues, such as with electrical, plumbing and heating and air conditioning will be addressed.
Dreher said as the city has done with other neighborhoods, such as Holiday Hills, multi-year rehabs are anticipated for the north and south sides.
City officials will re-examine the demand and housing conditions in the fall.
Income guidelines are adjusted by household size and being at or below 80 percent of the area median income. For example, a single person can make about $23,000-24,000 a year. The guidelines go up about $3,000 per person in the household, Dreher said.
“If you think you’re anywhere close to the line, apply anyway,” he said.
In the proposed target area, 34 percent of households rely on Social Security income, according to census information.
Owner tenure in the targeted area is strong with 66 percent of owners who occupy their homes having been in them 10 years or more and exhibiting strong pride in ownership, according to the city plan.
The Vermilion Heights Neighborhood Association also conducts beautification projects, assists city staff with code enforcement and has met monthly for the past five years.
Co-president of the group, Sandy Hufford, said she and other association members first heard about the city moving to their neighborhood at the neighborhood association workshop earlier this year.
The group announced the news to neighbors at its April meeting. Dreher is expected to talk to the association at its June meeting.
“It’s great,” Hufford said, adding that they are encouraging all residents to come learn more about the program.
She said the program will help with roof and other repairs.
“(Residents) don’t have to pay it back,” she said.
The rehabilitations will make a big difference in the neighborhood and help out homeowners, she added.
The city started teaming up with neighborhood associations to do home rehabilitations in 2004. The city spent the last three years in Holiday Hills rehabilitating homes. Prior to that, two years were spent in the Uncle Joe Cannon Neighborhood, two years were spent in the Kentucky, Tennessee and Delaware area and three years in the Northeast Neighborhood area.
“We take a portion of it at a time — south, north, east and west,” Dreher said.
That way there are not too many applicants at once or disappointed people, he said.
At the end of the years, the city basically hits saturation with taking care of the people who qualify, Dreher added.
He said Vermilion Heights is worthy of reinvestment with its high owner-occupancy rate and long-term occupancy.
In other CDBG funding, funding for the neighborhood impact program is for maximizing funding available through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis.
The Neighborhood Impact Program has the city working with Old National Bank — a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis — by providing matching grants of $500 to $5,000 for low and moderate-income homeowners to rehab their homes.
Bank grants will match homeowner funds on a 4-to-1 basis. For example, a homeowner provides $500, the city provides $500 and the bank provides $4,000 for a total of $5,000 rehab funds.
The money is for exterior repairs of homes of income-qualified, owner-occupied homes for no more than 25 percent of that amount being available for outside services.
For demolition/blight removal, the city is earmarking more funding. From 2006 to 2010, the city demolished 137 abandoned buildings. Of those, six were commercial, one industrial, nine multi-family and 121 single-family homes. In 2011, the city demolished 18 residential and one commercial building. In 2012, the city demolished 23 residential and one commercial structure.
The 2010 Census reported that the city has 1,876 (12.7 percent) vacant housing units. City records indicate 240 of those (207 residential and 33 commercial/industrial) are vacant and unsecured.
About 30 percent or 72 of those buildings have been abandoned and unsecured for three years or more and are deteriorated beyond economically feasible rehabilitation, according to city information.
Removing structures with CDBG funding is an eligible activity due to the structures being in low-moderate income neighborhoods. Prioritization and selection of those to be demolished will be determined in the fall.
The $10,000 earmarked in CDBG funding for Midtown/West Downtown redevelopment assistance is for costs associated with the formation of a Community Housing Development Organization to work on mixed-income housing development.
Costs may involve acquisition, clearance, environmental investigations, supportive infrastructure or security.
Funding break-down for the city 2013-2014 annual action plan for $833,018 in Community Development Block Grant funding:
$170,000 to rehabilitate five owner-occupied homes in Vermilion Heights.
$100,000 for accessibility modifications in five homes, citywide.
$276,418 for demolitions/blight removal, citywide.
$30,000 for neighborhood impact program.
$10,000 for redevelopment assistance Midtown/West Downtown.
$80,000 for economic development projects.
$166,600 for administrative reimbursement.