Whitfield County to apply for state grant to fix homes for low-income owners

When money is tight, sometimes people have to give up things that are necessary.

"For those living on limited incomes or low incomes, home maintenance is at the bottom of the list of things they can afford," said Suzanne Hooie, minister of missions for First Baptist Church of Dalton. "Their limited incomes are spent on utilities, food and basic necessities, with no income left over to do home repairs. Most people would be amazed at the poor living conditions that exist in some of these homes in our area. "

Hooie said there are very few resources available to help with the home repairs.

"We get requests weekly from individuals needing assistance with home repairs," she said. "The requests are usually for things that make living in the home dangerous like huge holes in floors and roofs or unstable steps/porches that have caused injuries."

On Tuesday, the members of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners took a step they said could help keep some people in their homes and help keep those houses livable.

The commissioners voted 4-0 to apply for a $400,000 Community Home Investment Program (CHIP) grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The grant can be used to rehabilitate owner-occupied houses and townhouses for those who can’t afford to fix them. Board Chairman Jevin Jensen typically votes only if there is a tie.

"This grant will help people who live in the unincorporated part of the county and in the smaller cities," Jensen said.

He said the city of Dalton has the power to apply for its own CHIP grant and has received such grants in the past.

The county last received a CHIP grant in 2014.

The commissioners also voted 4-0 to accept a bid from Rhonda Gilbert of Gilbert + Associates in Lawrenceville to write the grant application and to administer the grant if the county receives it. Gilbert will receive $3,500 to write the grant and would receive $6,000 to administer the grant. The money will come from the $20.3 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding the county is receiving.

“This CHIP grant is highly detailed and complex,” said Jensen. “Our strategy is to increase the number of grants dramatically we apply for. We are growing our capability internally, so you will see us doing more and more applications ourselves in the future. Grant applications were formerly handled at the (Northwest Georgia) Regional Commission in Rome, but our volume exceeds their current delivery capacity. Grants won and funded without relying on local property taxes are a win-win for our citizens.”

Jensen said the county took action to demolish “19 abandoned and unsafe houses this past year, usually working with property owners but in some cases going through courts when necessary.”

“The long-term strategy is to keep homes from getting into this condition,” he said. “The CHIP grants will help seniors make repairs and stay in their homes while also allowing young families struggling to make ends meet to keep their homes safe for kids.”

Reed Fincher, executive director of the Dalton-Whitfield Community Development Corp., said that agency has agreed to provide housing counseling to those aided by the grant if the county receives it. The grant requires those receiving aid to receive counseling on financing, maintaining and owning a home. The Community Development Corp. is a nonprofit whose mission is to help people acquire and maintain safe housing.

"We have a lot of homes that are in really bad shape," said Commissioner John Thomas. "And you've got people on fixed incomes who can't afford to get them fixed."

Commissioner Greg Jones agrees.

"If we can help them get their houses fixed it not only helps them but it improves the entire neighborhood," he said.

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