Bluffton, Habitat part ways on home-repair program

Nearly a year ago, Simmonsville Road resident Josephine Frazier applied for free repairs to her leaky porch roof through the town of Bluffton and Habitat for Humanity's "A Brush With Kindness" program.

She is still waiting.

She said she doesn't understand why the town has taken so long to help her and her neighbors.

"We should have been talked to," she said. "Don't just have us sitting there thinking we're going to get assistance."

In its second year, the free home-repair program for Bluffton residents has been stagnant for months.

The problem, town officials say, is that the Habitat-sponsored program was intended for minor exterior fixes -- for broken screen doors or fallen fences, for example -- not major repairs. But the town received more applications with problems similar to Frazier's than it expected, assistant town manager Marc Orlando said.

So it's time for the town go beyond what Habitat will do and form its own version of the program, Orlando said.

The new program will take on more ambitious projects and be unveiled in a few weeks, Orlando said.

"Items such as mobile-home roof repairs and interior work is outside of (Habitat's) scope," he said. "They're also heavily dependent on volunteers, which adds to the length of time to implement the assistance."

Although Bluffton has changed the focus of the program, Habitat for Humanity executive director Pat Wirth said Habitat's board of directors is considering continuing "A Brush With Kindness" on its own and expanding it beyond Bluffton.

About 15 applications for the program have been "in limbo" for months, town community development coordinator James Mitchell said at a town subcommittee meeting last week. At the urging of Buck Island Road resident Sharon Brown, town staff recently sent letters to applicants, including Frazier, telling them their applications will be addressed.

This year's town budget for free repairs for low- to moderate-income residents is $41,000.

In Bluffton, the free repairs were one of many initiatives called the Neighborhood Assistance Program, funded with state, local and federal money. So far, that program has demolished unsafe structures, removed junk and other debris, and cleaned up blighted areas.

Frazier is also hoping it will stop water from leaking into her home when it rains and keep her neighbor's roof from caving in.