Sunday, April 20, 2014
By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling firstname.lastname@example.org
FAIRFIELD — Clifford Risinger, 59, applied recently for help from a new housing assistance program designed to fix up Fairfield’s most dilapidated homes.
Cliff Risinger stands outside his circa 1978 trailer, at 88 Norridgewock Road in Fairfield on Tuesday. Risinger is applying for a grant that will allow him to fix up his home.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
How it works
Beginning In the fall, Fairfield residents can get applications for the Housing Assistance Program from the Town Office.
Grants are available to income-eligible homeowners who live in single-family homes.
Income eligibility is determined by the average wage in the area. In order to qualify, a family must make no more than 80 percent of the area median income, depending on the number of people in the family.
Priority is given to those houses that are at the highest risk of becoming uninhabitable.
Project administrator Carlton Pinney will conduct a top-to-bottom inspection of any qualified houses and identify what repairs will be covered under the grant. Money can be spent to fix nearly anything: roof, floors, plumbing, heating or electrical systems.
A typical project, he said, will spend about $15,000 fixing up a home.
The program will be done in conjunction with a weatherization program from the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program. If Pinney inspects a home that is not weatherized, he said, the community action program may provide the resources needed to weatherize it as a component of the larger renovation project.
Homeowners don’t have to pay for the cost of repairs unless they sell the house within the next five years, in which case they become responsible for a portion of them.
Pinney guessed that the money would cover renovations for about half of qualified applicants.
He said things in his life are getting better.
A glass of juice in his hand, still wearing a T-shirt and suspenders from a long day of working on cars at Powers Auto Center in Clinton, Risinger spoke openly about the condition of his 39-year-old mobile home.
“The trailer is old and beat up, but it makes do for me,” he said during a tour of his property Tuesday evening.
A year ago, Risinger said, he was staying with friends and helping to take care of them through terminal illnesses. When they both died, he was given two months to find a new place. The trailer, which he got by paying $117 owed in back taxes, was his best option.
He paid another $200 to have it moved to a small lot he owns at the top of a steep, rutted driveway, just out of sight of Norridgewock Road, about a mile from the southern edge of the town.
Risinger’s heavy eyeglasses magnified his eyes, accentuating his already-earnest expression as he described his efforts to apply his considerable electrical, carpentry and mechanical skills to improving the trailer on a shoestring budget.
The ceilings in the trailer home are naturally low, but the cumulative effect of years of snow on the thin roof caused it to bow lower, by nearly 2 feet. Risinger said it was so bad that he couldn’t stand upright in the kitchen.
The bulge in the ceiling is still there, but much less prominent since Risinger jacked it up and installed a set of kitchen cabinets that bear some of the weight.
Risinger bought a utility pole to bring power to the trailer home, but he couldn’t afford to have it installed. So he drove it home in his pickup truck and installed it himself, using three trees as a tripod, and a come-along to winch it up into the air.
Central Maine Power Co. inspected it and gave it a passing grade, he reported proudly.
These days, he has power in the home. He can walk through his kitchen, not hunched over, but upright. Things are getting better, he said.
Fairfield’s housing problem
Risinger is one of more than 20 people who have turned in early paperwork seeking help from a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant that Fairfield just won to fix up the homes of the town’s low-income residents.
It’s a lot of money, but Carlton Pinney, the project administrator, called it “a drop in the bucket” of what it would take to fill the need in Fairfield, where nearly half the homes are not in good repair.
“You could spend millions,” he said.
He said not all of those who are eligible will apply when applications become available this fall at the Town Office. He guessed that there will be enough money to help only about half of those who qualify.
In his application for the grant, which comes from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development and is administered by the state Department of Economic and Community Development, Pinney said many low-income homeowners simply can’t maintain their homes, which are deteriorating to the point that they are no longer habitable.
“Certainly that is a problem common to many Maine towns, but few compare to Fairfield,” he wrote.
Pinney said the competition for $1 million in housing grants available in the state this year was fierce. Augusta got $500,000 for veterans’ housing, while $250,000 each went to Fairfield and Bucksport.
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