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County applies for housing improvement grants

Douglas County supervisors are hoping to help low- to moderate-income homeowners and tenants live in improved properties. Thursday, the County Board approved several resolutions that would help the county garner Community Development Block Grant ...

Douglas County supervisors are hoping to help low- to moderate-income homeowners and tenants live in improved properties.

Thursday, the County Board approved several resolutions that would help the county garner Community Development Block Grant money for a 10-county area in northern Wisconsin.

The money would be used for zero percent interest loans to homeowners and landlords to make repairs to their properties in rural Douglas County, and residents in Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Iron, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor and Washburn counties.

It’s not known yet how much money would be available for the 10-county area, said Sheldon Johnson of Northwest Regional Planning Commission, which administers the grant funding. He said there is about $7.6 million available for the first phase, submitted in 2014.

"Community Development Block Grants can be used for a number of different things, including housing rehabilitation, which is the application that is being submitted on behalf of the region," Johnson said.

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Grant funding assists with homeowner owner occupied rehabilitation, renter occupied rehabilitation, and homebuyer assistance, Johnson said. While landlords repay the zero percent loan back over a period of 10 years, Johnson said homeowner loans are deferred and paid back when the home is sold.

"Housing needs are still prevalent throughout the area," Johnson said.

The program is not a remodeling program; it is designed to rehabilitate housing - leaking roofs, electrical issues, single-pane windows, failing septic systems and addressing health and safety issues, Johnson said.

"The program targets major repairs to homes," Johnson said. " … We don’t do high-end grade materials, it’s mid-grade and we discourage the low grade. There are no granite countertops or granite sink tops or anything like that."

Douglas County is the lead county in the 10-county cooperative effort to improve housing in northern Wisconsin.

Supervisor Larry Quam said he was concerned about the low participation rate, and while there has been past outreach efforts, he questioned if there were other ways to reach the public in rural areas.

Johnson said the agency has tried a number of ways to get the information out, including sending a mailing to 780 Douglas County residents in Dairyland, Gordon, Hawthorne, Maple and the village of Solon Springs that fit the profile for the grant funding. He said those brochures only netted 17 requests for applications.

"It might mean those people who received those brochures have homes that don’t need repairs," Johnson said.

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For more information about the housing rehabilitation program, contact Northwest Regional Planning Commission at 715-635-2197 or email Kimberly Gifford at kgifford@nwrpc.com .

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