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SHARON Interest wanes in city program



Published: Sat, April 6, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



People were interested in a loan that would be forgiven after five years but not in a loan they must pay back.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

SHARON, Pa. -- Interest in a city-run housing rehabilitation program for low- and moderate-income homeowners has dropped dramatically since the city changed the way it funds those projects.

Sharon used to give what amounted to $7,000 grants for each rehabilitation project.

It was a deferred loan that was forgiven at the rate of 20 percent for each year the owner stayed in the house after the job was done, and it was written off completely after the fifth year.

Sharon, which uses federal Community Development Block Grants for the program, was faced with meeting mandatory federal lead-based paint regulations this year that said any housing rehabilitation work costing more than $5,000 must include lead-based paint abatement if lead-based paint is present in the house.

That could boost the cost of rehabilitation by $15,000 per house and sharply reduce the total number of rehabilitation projects the city could do.

Program change: The city decided to reduce the scope of the work and offer only a zero-interest loan of up to $5,000 on each rehabilitation project.

The loan could be paid back over 20 years, which would require a monthly payment of only about $20, said Rosette Fisher, deputy director of the Sharon Community Development Department, which handles the program.

Faced with a permanent loan rather than a loan that would be forgiven in five years, homeowners have said they are no longer interested in the program, she said.

Sharon, which had done 600 housing rehabilitations over 20 years, had a waiting list of 20 homes when it announced the funding change in January. The number has dropped to below 10, and several homeowners have been telling the city they aren't interested in the loan offer, Fisher said.

Testing still needed: Each home must still be tested for the presence of lead-based paint and, if it is found, the homeowner will be offered a $10,000 deferred loan to deal specifically with the paint problem.

That loan would be forgiven at the rate of 20 percent per year as long as the owner lives in the structure.

People need to know that this is still an excellent program that can help them bring their properties up to building and safety code standards at a reasonable cost, Fisher said.

If interest isn't revived, the city may be faced with changing the program funding again, she said.




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