As Bluffton struggles to build new affordable housing, town leaders are working to beef up a program aimed at keeping low-income residents in their current homes.
The town’s neighborhood assistance program provides money for homeowners to fix problems such as leaking roofs and sinking floors.
“We are seeing a huge need,” growth management director Kendra Lelie said earlier this week. “... People’s floors are falling in because their homes just aren’t structurally up to par.”
But the town’s maximum per project budget — $10,000 for a roof repair and $5,000 for all other repairs — often isn’t enough to finish the job, she said.
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“When we do our minor home repairs, we normally don’t do any of the finishing work,” she said. “We don’t do painting, we don’t (replace) carpets, we don’t (replace) linoleum.”
But expanding the program’s scope of work presents a challenge.
It is “not only a policy change, but there is a financial change that accompanies it,” town councilman Fred Hamilton said.
Because “the cost of construction is going up and need is going up,” the town would have to find more money for the program, cut costs, or reduce the number of projects it takes on, Lelie said.
Town staff and members of the Affordable Housing Committee have begun brainstorming some solutions to those problems.
To raise money for affordable housing initiatives, Bluffton’s town council could add a fee to all building permits.
Those fees “could potentially be another revenue source that could help with funding” home repairs, Lelie said.
Committee member Jon Nickel said “the need (for repairs) and the resources available are out whack” and suggested the town consider soliciting donations or hosting “a golf tournament as a way of raising money.”
Lelie said the town could also “negotiate better with our contractors” to get a better price on repair services and ensure those contracts “include finishing work as part of the process.”
And perhaps, in certain circumstances, there are ways for the town to remove the cost of hiring contractors all together.
Lelie suggested potential partnerships with volunteers from local nonprofit groups, churches and charities to pitch in “from a labor perspective.”
Lili Coleman is a member of the town’s affordable housing panel and the director of Bluffton Self Help, an organization that provides food, clothing and access to a variety of services for those in need.
“We can really help” with an expanded home repair program, Coleman said. “We have (willing volunteers) who call us all the time saying they are looking for places to do finishing work — painting and that sort of stuff.”
The affordable housing panel voiced unanimous support earlier this week for expanding the program to include finishing work.
The full town council will likely chime in before the start of the new fiscal year in July.