Stellar: Revitalizing a community, one home at a time

Monday, May 21, 2012

Another central element of the City's Stellar Communities program is scheduled to begin this month as construction will soon begin on nine home renovations near the Courthouse Square thanks to an initiative that will provide construction grants to qualified homeowners.

The enhancements -- part of the Owner Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Program (OOR) -- are funded by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) and intended to provide qualified homeowners with opportunities to make necessary improvements to their property.

"It almost seems too good to be true," Mayor Sue Murray said. "But this program amounts to an investment in the properties that immediately surround our central business district.

"It's an opportunity to help our neighbors revitalize a neighborhood that is only going to become more important in our community's development. It's an incredible opportunity, and one that can have an enormous impact on property values and the cohesion of our neighborhoods."

Under the OOR program, IHCDA will provide funding to cover the specific costs of renovations, though program participants will incur a number of relatively small costs for administration of the program. Enhancements in this first-round of construction will range from roof replacements to rebuilt front porches and a variety of interior renovations.

To qualify for the OOR program, homeowners must live within the neighborhood designated for the program, specifically the area within a two-block radius of the Courthouse Square.

The area extends from approximately Washington Street to Poplar Street, from Jackson Street to Madison Street, from Franklin Street to Liberty Street and from Indiana Street to College Avenue. Owners must also meet income guidelines set by the federal government.

Once a homeowner qualifies for the program, the home receives an energy audit and is inspected for lead-based paint. The grant specifies that remediation of lead paint and energy upgrades must receive priority, but once those efforts are complete, the owners can work with the grant administrators to determine the scope of additional improvements that may be possible.

To facilitate additional aesthetic improvements, Phase 1 of the grant requires that homeowners attend a course on landscaping. Greencastle participants will participate in this class with Stephanie Sheldon of Shrub Works.

Work on the nine homes identified in the first round of the grant is expected to begin in June, once construction contractors can be secured for each project. Bids for those projects were opened at the May 16 meeting of the city's Board of Works.

As construction in the first wave gets under way, the city hopes to move forward quickly in identifying homeowners that might be interested in the second round of OOR funding. Those interested should contact either City Hall at 848-1515 or the city's grant administrator, Star Development, at 478-6512.

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