When Kenneth Murphy bought his little house on East Providence Avenue in 1970, he figured he’d live there for the rest of his life. He’s still there, but life didn’t go exactly as planned. Murphy got divorced and he lost his job. A roof leak got so bad it took out part of the ceiling in his bedroom. The back door was bent and wouldn’t shut properly. A leak in the bathroom destroyed part of the floor there. Unemployed, Murphy was barely able to make ends meet when he saw a notice about the city’s Single Family Housing Rehabilitation Program in his utility bill.
“I thought it couldn’t hurt to apply. I didn’t think I was going to get any money,” Murphy said, sitting on the couch in his living room Monday morning. “Boy was I surprised when they called me and said I qualified for $35,000.”
The Single Family Housing Rehabilitation Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is primarily available to low-income homeowners in community development neighborhoods. The current program year runs through Sept. 30 and has $1.5 million available to qualifying homeowners. A household of four with an annual income of $50,300 or less may qualify for one of the 3 percent interest home repair loans.
The program is one of four similar home improvement and lead abatement programs run by the city of Spokane, funded by HUD and administered by Kiemle and Hagood Co.
Shannon Meagher, director of community building at Kiemle and Hagood, has been involved with the administration of the programs and evaluating applicants for more than 10 years.
“The money is distributed by neighborhood and in some areas, like Hillyard, we do have a long waiting list of applicants,” Meagher said. But in other neighborhoods, including Emerson-Garfield, Logan, Nevada-Lidgerwood and North Hill, money is available but homeowners are not applying.
“I think they figure it’s a scam or something,” Meagher said. “That’s the biggest misconception about the program, that there’s some trick to it or some hidden fees, but there are no hidden fees.”
The Lead Safe Spokane program is also HUD-funded and has $369,000 available for city and county residents who earn less than 80 percent of the area median income, which is $32,750 for a household of two. That program provides a free lead inspection – the market value of that alone is $875 – and also free blood testing of children younger than 6 living at the home. If the homeowner qualifies for a 3 percent interest loan, payment is typically deferred until the home is sold or refinanced.
“For county residents we can only make minor repairs,” Meagher said.
Spokane homeowners also have access to a Roofs Only Program, which has $125,000 available this program year. Qualifying homeowners receive a 3 percent loan, but payments here are deferred for at least the first three years.
“This program is available all over the city,” Meagher said.
There is also a smaller Rental Improvement Program available for landlords in Spokane.
By far the most of the HUD funding goes to single-family, owner-occupied homes, and Meagher said the first step for a Spokane homeowner is to fill out an application. Property taxes and house payments must be current and the homeowner may ask for a list of improvements to be done, but, as Meagher put it, the program is not intended to install granite countertops or other luxury items.
“We once had a request for wiring for a professional espresso maker. We said no to that,” Meagher said.
Most applicants ask for improvements similar to what Murphy put on his list: a new roof, a new door, railings, flooring and windows. Every home is tested for radon and lead paint.
Meagher said the home improvement crews find elevated radon levels in more than 50 percent of the homes tested. A radon-filled basement can be a huge health risk, especially if people are sleeping there, Meagher said.
Once the homeowner has been approved for a loan, field staff assess the home.
“We sort of triage the home,” Meagher said. “It’s a balancing act between what the homeowner would like to have done and what we can pay for.”
When the specific improvements have been decided upon, Meagher and her staff handle the bid process.
All contractors are licensed, bonded and insured.
“It is a low-bid process and the contractors all bid on the exact same work order, so that makes it very easy to compare bids,” Meagher said.
When the work is done, field staff, homeowner and contractor go through the completed work together to make sure everything has been done right.
“There is also a one-year warranty,” Meagher said. “The city has developed a warranty fund over the years – that’s a pretty good deal compared to what most consumers get.”
Ken Murphy ended up with a new roof, new flooring, a back door and two new bedrooms and a half bathroom in the basement.
His daughter, Tanya Murphy, and granddaughter Kari Nelson live with him, and before the basement bedrooms were finished and egress windows installed, they slept on mattresses on the concrete basement floor. Now the basement has been insulated and new windows let in lots of light.
Ken Murphy gets misty-eyed as he shows off the new bedrooms.
“I still can’t believe it’s real,” Ken Murphy said.
He doesn’t have to make any payments on the loan as long as he owns and lives in the house.
“When the house is sold, then that’s when they get their money – they don’t get anything until then,” Murphy said.
Working with the field staff and the contractors during the construction was easy, Murphy said.
“They told me everything they were going to do and how they were going to do it,” he said. “And the work looks great.”
He is still looking for work, dreaming of the day where he can afford to finish up some other repair jobs like painting the walls and finishing the stairs to the basement.
“This is definitely the way to go,” Murphy said. “Now it feels great to come home.”