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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

SNAP loan program aims to help low-income homeowners make critical repairs to older homes

To help low-income homeowners pay for needed repairs to their older homes, such as roofs and sewer lines, Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners has created a revolving loan program that looks to provide relief.

Nicole Bishop, SNAP’s marketing and communications specialist, said the program has been running for the past 15 years and is needed now more than ever.

“Keeping somebody in a home that they already own is going to be an improvement and (would use) fewer resources than having them lose the home and finding some place to go if their home is no longer inhabitable,” Bishop said.

Danny Shea has been SNAP’s single-family rehabilitation project manager for eight years. Shea is also a former construction worker and loan manager.

“The average price of a single-family home is ridiculous right now, and if you lose inventory on those start homes and the lower-costing homes, that’s how we’re helping,” Shea said. “We’re not helping $700,000 homes and $500,000. We’re helping the $200,000 to $300,000 homes that are more affordable for low-income people to purchase.”

Sewer pipe problems are a big concern. As more families sought to buy homes after World War II, builders used Orangeburg pipes to move waste into a city’s sewage system.

“They were all coming back to Spokane to build houses, but there was a lack of raw materials,” Shea said. “So simply, to make it quick, a company in New Jersey decided to make sewer pipes out of craft paper, which is the brown paper, rolled it real tight and had it pinned with a cold tar substance.”

The use of Orangeburg pipes stopped by the 1970s, but many older homes in Spokane still use them. The life expectancy of Orangeburg pipes is up to 50 years.

“Well, it’s well past the 50 years and it doesn’t just break or clog, it just collapses,” Shea said. “That’s devastating to a low-income person.”

If the Orangeburg pipes are not cleaned or replaced soon enough, it can lead to health and safety issues, such as backed up sewage, contamination of water and other dangerous complications. Shea estimates the average price of a new sewage line could be as high as $15,000.

“And that’s not putting a sewer,” Shea said. “That’s just fixing the line that’s broken. So where do people find that money?”

With the housing crisis, inflation and worries about a looming recession, Shea and SNAP administrators began to recognize the need to subsidize the payment for the dire replacement procedure.

SNAP also has expanded the loan program to roofing, because of the urgency to fix those problems.

“Many roofs in town start leaking and need to be replaced,” Shea said. “Then there’s that $20,000 bill. It can be an insane story trying to find the money to fix that for low-income people.”

Because the city provides the funds through a grant developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the loan program is a “revolving program.”

When the loan is paid off, the money provided by the city can then be lent to the next person.

Shea also mentioned that this is an environmental equity issue , because many of the homes needing service are located in Spokane’s flatland areas north of the river and south of the Shadle Park area. An environmental crisis could uproot the Orangeburg pipes.

The applications are made in the same format as the mortgage applications to increase accessibility. Homeowners can apply the same information they use on their mortgage applications, and SNAP also helps find businesses to place an appropriate bid on replacement costs.

“Then we do a normal mortgage on it like a normal company would, but then we take that money and disperse it out to the contractors as they do their job,” Shea said.

SNAP has hired journeyman plumbers to assess and fix these situations. Tyler Lane has been with SNAP for the past six years as a single-family home rehabilitation assessor. He also owns an older home in the Cherry Deer Park area, occupying a home built in 1923.

“I’ve had to do extensive sewer work, replaced my own roof on the house and I’ve redone all the flooring and replaced a lot of the plaster walls and windows,” he said. “I understand a lot of the challenges homeowners face with the extensive work on my own home as well.”

Lane said the timing of replacing these can take up to months, especially when environmental reviews need to take place.

“The program itself, from the first initial call until the project is complete, can take up to a few months unfortunately,” Lane said. “Because the program is funded by HUD and the city of Spokane, we have to be approved. We try to expedite it as quickly as possible.”

Indigenous tribes and state archaeologists must assess if the area that SNAP’s workers are digging in is safe enough to penetrate.

“It includes a consultation for the sewer ones and we have to provide an environmental review for everyone,” Lane said. “That type of review, at minimum, takes 30 days.”