Maryland home repair

A home repair worker fixes a window.

(The Center Square) – Rehabilitating homes for low-income rural Maryland residents is the focus of a new federal investment.

Ten Maryland communities will use their portions of $102 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant funds to rehabilitate homes for underserved rural people in an effort to develop or improve essential public services and facilities.

Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small announced the grant funding to 263 projects that have been funded to create economic opportunities and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in rural America, according to a release.

Garrett County Community Action Committee Inc. received $70,000 in Housing Preservation Grant funds to offer low-income homeowners grants or low-interest loans for critical home repair projects. With this investment, the repaired homes will then meet current property and safety standards.

The Community Action Committee received a $42,000 grant last year from the USDA, Duane Yoder, the organization’s president, told The Center Square. Those funds were used to replace a roof, install a new septic field, add a walk-in shower for a handicapped person, and fix fire protection issues.

The organization has a 53-person waiting list for the $38,000 grant it received for 2023, he said. The kind of work homeowners planned in their applications again included roofs, ramps, plumbing work and another walk-in shower.

“We’re in Central Appalachia,” he said. “We’re that far western tip of Maryland.”

Median and household incomes are significantly lower than the rest of the state, he said.

“I think we’ve kind of turned a corner in terms of some of what would be typically associated with Central Appalachia in terms of economies and so on,” Yoder said. “But we have a large percentage of low-income homeowners.”

Even with low-income residents, homeownership remains high in the county.

Housing is such a huge determinant of health, Yoder said.

“We can pretty much look at it as a way of making sure that residents here in the community can retain a high-quality life and have a healthy environment to live in,” Yoder said.

The houses owned by elderly residents are older and need more work. The tendency is to direct the funding there, but it is not exclusively for seniors, he said.

About a third of the county’s households come through the Community Action Committee’s doors for one of its services, he said. Demographic data enables staff to identify individuals whose homes need work. But the homeowner must make their application.

A $75,000 grant from the state of Maryland Housing Trust Fund enabled the Community Action Committee to fund work for an additional nine homes, plus paid for a part-time worker to help with inspections and project monitoring.

They haven’t heard if they will receive another Housing Trust Fund grant in 2023.

Another funding source was a $35,000 Weinberg Foundation grant.

“There’s a program model called Capable which is focused on making home modifications that allow elderly people or disabled people to stay in their homes. And it’s done under the supervision of an occupational therapist and a registered nurse,” Yoder said.

They brought an occupational therapist and a registered nurse under contract to go into the homes and do assessments, followed by a daily living plan for the homeowner. The homeowner is then monitored for a year.