Program renovates homes for lower-income homeowners

Redevelopment Authority’s program helps make renovations happen for lower-income homeowners

February 24, 2013
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Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
David Dennison of Highland Ridge Construction in Washington gets ready to nail the baseboard below the cabinets in the kitchen at the home of Brenda Wacker of South Strabane Township Monday. The work is being done through the Washington County Home Rehabilitation program. Order a Print
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Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
Homeowner Brenda Wacker goes over plans for rehabilitating her home in South Strabane Township with David Dennison of Highland Ridge Construction in Washington on Monday. The renovation is part of the Washington County Home Rehabilitation Program. Order a Print
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Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter
New electric meters and related services are among the home improvements Valerie Moravek received through the county program. Order a Print
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Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter
Valerie Moravek stands on the new front porch of her McKean Avenue house in Charleroi, made possible by the Washington County Home Rehabilitation Program. Order a Print

A former grocery store is bearing fruit in Charleroi.

“They did great work on my house,” Valerie Moravek said excitedly, raving about renovations to her duplex that were overseen by the Redevelopment Authority of Washington County’s Home Improvement Department.

“I got a new chimney and roof, a new front porch, kitchen, lighting, windows.

“They did a lot of work and it’s beautiful.”

Brenda Wacker loved the Christmas present she got from the county – a new shower area.

“The tub had been leaking,” she said. “We had a bucket in the basement that collected the water.”

That project is part of a mini-metamorphosis taking place at her home in South Strabane Township, one she was unable to tackle alone. “I couldn’t keep up with the renovations,” said Wacker, a single mother with two children and two jobs.

Staying on tax rolls

Moravek and Wacker are among county residents who are benefiting from the Home Rehabilitation Program, one of three programs the Home Improvement Department offers to homeowners. It provides funding for repairs, modifications and mortgage assistance for low- to moderate-income families, enabling the structures to remain livable and on the tax rolls.

The department does so through the Home Rehabilitation, Homebuyer Assistance and Access programs. Homebuyer Assistance is for first-time homebuyers; Access is for residents with permanent physical disabilities so they can increase accessibility in their homes.

There are basic eligibility requirements, some that vary from program to program, some that are the same for all three. For each, annual household income must not exceed 80 percent of the median family income for the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area, as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The income limits, for now, are:

Family of 1: $36,350; Family of 2: $41,550; Family of 3: $46,750.; Family of 4: $51,900; Family of 5: $56,100. Family of 6: $60,250.

Funding for these programs comes from a number of sources, including federal Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership Program assistance; state Department of Community and Economic Development funds; and from the Redevelopment Authority’s annual allocation from the county’s Local Share Account.

The LSA funds used on current or recently completed projects are from 2011 casino gambling revenues at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino. They are for homes in the rehab and Access programs.

Last month, the county approved RACW’s request for $314,010 from revenues collected in 2012. Those funds will be distributed in July, pending state approval.

A number of homeowners are getting a boost from these programs. The Home Improvement Department, which works on a fiscal year, reported that from July 1, 2012, through Jan. 18, 87 homes either have had work completed, are under contract or are being processed.

The vast majority of the homes – 69 – are or were in the Home Rehabilitation Program, as were 28 of the 36 that had been completed.

“That number (87) is pretty much a standard workload,” said Cindy Linville, Home Improvement director. “Some projects will carry over to the next fiscal year.”

She said Home Rehabilitation is the oldest of her department’s programs, dating to the late 1970s. Until the program went countywide in 1994, she said, only the five largest communities were eligible: Washington, Monongahela, Charleroi, Donora and Canonsburg.

Long waiting list

Linville said all three programs have a waiting list, but home rehab is the longest. Moravek said she applied eight years ago, but work didn’t begin until 2012 and was finished last fall. Wacker applied in February 2010 and work began in August.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Wacker said. “I was told there was a five-year wait.”

A longtime Charleroi resident, Moravek, 58. had emotional ties to her McKean Avenue home long before the renovation. Her grandfather built it as a grocery store around 1915 and ran it for years, then her father inherited it and converted it into a duplex. She grew up there and later inherited it herself.

Moravek has owned the building for 15 years and lives on the lower level with her mother, 93, and her newlywed husband, James Hillen. She rents out the top half.

Until she spoke with a neighbor who had had work done in 2005, Moravek did not know about the county rehab program. She applied and ended up with the contractor her neighbor had, Harry Tuman of Long Branch.

“They did great work,” said Moravek, an aide in a adult facility in Charleroi.

Wacker was equally laudatory of her contractor, Highland Ridge Construction of Claysville, owned by David Dennison. The company started work in August and “they hustled to get the shower done before Christmas.”

Recent weather has limited Dennison’s firm to interior work, which is almost complete at the Cape Cod home on Oak Spring Road, near Monarch Art School. Among the other new items are the living room floor, doors, storm doors, windows, stove, sink, countertop and carpeting. A sump pump is due and work on French drains will be completed when winter passes.

Little publicity

Although the three programs draw large numbers of applicants, a lot of people aren’t aware of them. Wacker, like Moravek, found out by happenstance. She was a tax revenue assessor for the county three years ago, picking up real estate taxes from a Donora resident when she found out the individual had gotten a new roof and windows through the home rehab program.

Wacker is now a coordinator at McGuffey Senior Center, following a transfer to the county Department of Aging. Wacker also works part time at the casino at the Neadows Racetrack & Casino, logging about 60 hours a week between the two positions. She has lived in her house for nine years with her son, 22, and daughter, 19.

She will always reflect fondly on that day in Donora.

“I didn’t know this program existed,” Wacker said. “It is wonderful.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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