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House need repairs? Stevens County HRA may have a solution (updated)

The rehabilitation target areas in Morris. Target A is the main area. Target B will only be used if Target A does not use entire funding.

Evelyn Schmitz had an old door in a washroom that allowed air into the room even when it was closed.

"It was not economical," Schmitz said. She used insulation on the door but it was still drafty.

Then, a contractor "put a new door in and it really made a difference in heat," Schmitz said.

The new door is only one of several home projects completed at Schmitz's home in Chokio under a Small Cities Development Program loan program in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The program was administered by the Stevens County Housing and Redevelopment Authority for construction in 2017. The program provided forgivable loans to eligible homeowners such as Schmitz in Chokio and Alberta.

Schmitz used the loan to replace the washroom door and to convert several 32-inch doors to 36-inch doors to accommodate a wheelchair, replace linoleum in her kitchen, replace windows in an upstairs bedroom and other projects in her home.

"It's really been a great program," Schmitz said.

A similar program may be available to homeowners in Morris this year in a targeted area that includes several blocks of Lyndale Avenue, Wyoming Avenue near West 6th Street, West 8th Street and West 9th Street. The area also includes several blocks of West 7th Street, Idaho Avenue and Nevada Avenue. The Stevens County HRA is applying to receive funds through the Small Cities Development program that could be used to help local homeowners.

The program provides up to $25,000 in a forgivable loan to homeowners to make improvements such as replacing windows, siding, doors, making energy, structural and other improvements. The owner must remain in the home for 10 years to have the loan forgiven and must meet other guidelines including income.

"Typically, every two years we try and apply for funds," Melanie Fohl of the Stevens County HRA said of the housing rehabilitation program.

Fohl said there are 132 houses in the targeted area. The area was selected because of several criteria including age of homes, a survey of conditions and other factors, Fohl said.

"DEED's goal is to see big improvements in neighborhoods," Fohl said.

The home improvements benefit the homeowners, neighborhoods and overall community in several ways. Homeowners get repairs that can reduce their heating and cooling costs or improvements that allow elderly to live in their homes longer. Neighborhoods get improved housing overall, the community gets improved housing stock, Fohl said.

The loan program can prompt homeowners to make improvements they may have considered but weren't able to do for a variety of reasons, Fohl said.

"A lot people may understand the need (for work) but going about getting a plan, getting a contractor for the work, knowing what are the best options can be a daunting task," Fohl said.

The HRA can help eligible homeowners develop a repair plan, choose a contractor and approve a bid. When the work starts, the HRA oversees the project.

The program loan can also stretch money homeowners may have saved for some improvements, Fohl said.

In Schmitz's case, she had bought new linoleum for her kitchen but couldn't install it after a knee injury. A contractor installed her flooring as part of her loan project.

"The contractor was good to work with. The HRA office was awesome," Schmitz said. HRA staff also made sure that some repairs Schmitz had been content to leave off her list were included in the overall project.

Schmitz didn't believe she'd qualify for the program until she applied. She also encouraged some friends to apply when they were reluctant to do so. When her friends learned they qualified, "They were totally thrilled," Schmitz said.

The HRA will be applying for funds and local interest is key so it must receive letters of interest from local homeowners. Although target area A is the main focus of the program, if there is not enough interest in that area, residents from target area B can apply. Target area B includes several blocks of Scotts Avenue and Albany Avenue and nearby streets.

Homeowners can submit a letter of interest that is available at HR offices at GrandView Apartments at 100 S. Columbia Ave. or call 320-589-3142.