Home-repair programs making a difference for low-income homeowners in Portage County

Photo by Erik Mclean

In need of critical home repairs but can’t afford them? Two local organizations offer help.

Project HOPE, operated by the Community Action Council of Portage County, provides one-time emergency home repairs to low-income homeowners.

Habitat for Humanity of Portage County’s Neighborhood Revitalization program aims to serve homeowners with safety and maintenance problems.

The Community Action Council of Portage County was awarded $300,000 in home repair funding this month for its Project HOPE (Home Ownership Prevents Evictions).

The funding from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund runs through February 2025.

The agency plans to assist about 150 very low-income families, said David Shea, executive director of CAC.

The primary goal of HOPE is to prevent eviction or homelessness due to homeowners’ inability to make necessary repairs, according to the CAC website. Residents can get help with repair or replacement of heating units and and hot water tanks; repairs necessary to correct code violations; handicapped accessibility modifications; repair of plumbing or sewer problems, if possible; and electrical repairs.

HOPE is a one-time service.

To be eligible for assistance, a family must be below 50% of the median income for Portage County, which is about $41,000 per year for a family of four. Applicants must own their home. Mobile homes are also eligible and the program is designed to target those units.

While Habitat for Humanity International is known for constructing new homes, the Portage County affiliate now offers the Neighborhood Revitalization program, which includes special programs for veterans and older adults, said Rachel Kerns, executive director, Habitat for Humanity of Portage County.

Homeowners who are interested must fill out an application showing need. About one to two applicants per month meet the income requirements, Kerns said.

In the past 12 months, the organization completed five home projects, she said. Bigger projects are repairs to roofs and windows. Interior projects for people who use wheelchairs or walkers may include leveling out thresholds and widening doorways.

Many other small repairs are performed routinely during the week. For example, Kerns said one senior resident needed a door rehung, and Habitat’s construction manager was able to come out right away and fix it.

Habitat offers free labor through its volunteers or construction manager, except in the cases where a contractor like an electrician or plumber is required. However, residents are asked to pay back the cost of materials, Kerns said.

For those who can’t afford to pay, a “scholarship” grant may be available; for others with modest incomes, a five-year repayment plan is an option.

Habitat receives grants and donations to help cover costs. Kerns said the Portage group is hoping to hire a second construction manager because of the expansion of the home repair project.

Two to three new homes are built each year and that alone keeps the construction manager busy. Building repairs are also offered to nonprofit groups and churches.

One grant partner Habitat has is the Community Action Council.

Funding for the CAC’s HOPE program is provided through various fees, including property transfers, collected by county recorders from around Ohio, Portage County Recorder Lori Calcei stated in a news release. The funds are allocated to groups like the CAC through a competitive bid process.

The aid will “piggyback” with other services the CAC offers. So, someone who applies for the free Home Weatherization Assistance Program may also get help for electrical or plumbing repairs, Shea said.

“Because of the high number of mobile homes in our county, we target those units, many of which tend to be very low-income,” Shea said.

“We have operated this program for 20 years but this grant is the highest we’ve ever received,” he said. “We had a lot of support from organizations in the county, and I would particularly like to thank state Rep. Gail Pavliga, our county commissioners, our county recorder and county treasurer and the city of Kent.”

The Community Action Council of Portage County can be reached by email at [email protected] or [email protected] or by phone at 330-297-1456, extension 259.

Habitat for Humanity can be reached at 330-296-2880 or visit https://www.habitatofportage.org for an application.

If you plan to pay for home repairs yourself, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggests checking contractors through the Better Business Bureau before starting work. The BBB of Akron serves Portage County and can be reached at 330-253-4590 or https://www.bbb.org/local-bbb/bbb-of-akron.

Mary Kay Quinn
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