By Debbie Adams
Vinton town staff and several members of the Downtown Housing Project Management Team spent the morning on May 4 canvassing the Cleveland Avenue neighborhood to recruit citizens to complete surveys for the Downtown Housing Rehab Grant.
The town has been working for over two years on a Housing Rehabilitatiion Program to improve downtown neighborhoods through grant funding. The project will enable the town to assist home and property owners with home repairs and/or improvements to the overall infrastructure.
The project dates back to a Town Council strategic planning meeting in which members expressed a desire to do something for the homeowners and residents of the town after the completion of the downtown revitalization project in the general business district.
In 2017 the town applied for and received a grant for $3000 from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to conduct a windshield survey of several downtown residential neighborhoods to pinpoint areas for rehabilitation.
They received an additional planning grant of $27,000 from DHCD to prepare for the construction grant application which could provide up to $1 million to facilitate rehabilitation and construction in the neighborhoods selected, with a focus on basic repairs to keep homes “warm, safe, and dry.”
Those preparations included hiring consultants to assist in defining project parameters and writing the grant application. The Summit Design and Engineering firm was chosen through an RFP process. Janet Jonas facilitates the Vinton project for Summit. The consultants helped the town narrow the focus of the project to the Cleveland Avenue area.
One of the biggest factors in the success of a housing rehabilitation program is citizen buy-in and “high community engagement.” The town must recruit home owners and landlords willing to make the commitment to participate, with some financial investment required from participants–the lowest amount being $25/month generally up to around $100/month as their contribution to the improvements.
After two community meetings with residents, town staff went door to door in the neighborhood asking residents to complete the surveys with basic information on themselves and their dwellings, including type of dwelling, whether the home is occupied or vacant, the mortgage or monthly rent payment, whether the resident receives housing assistance, how long they have lived there, how many individuals live in the home and their ages, and demographics.
Information is also requested on income, age of the home, the number of rooms, whether sinks, toilets, appliances, and water are working, the source of heat, storm drainage issues, repairs needed, and whether the resident is interested in participating in the housing rehabilitation program.
After the first efforts, 25 surveys were completed from the 119 in the targeted area.
The Grant Management Team considered what further steps they could take to encourage residents to complete the surveys so that the project can continue. The consensus was to schedule a community canvassing day using town staff and management team members on a Saturday when more residents might be at home.
Vinton Principal Planner Nathan McClung and Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters facilitated the project, along with Project Manager and Summit Consultant Janet Jonas. Members of the management team volunteering their time were Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce President Justin Davison, Stephanie Brown, Doug Forbes, and Regional Planner Bryan Hill from the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission,
The canvassers met first at the Municipal Building for a brief training session and then headed out to knock on doors and recruit participants to complete the survey and answer questions they might have about the program.
Peters said that “the canvassing was a great success. We received an additional 16 surveys and made numerous meaningful connections with many of the respondents that will certainly assist as the grant program moves forward.”
Davison also viewed the canvassing effort in a positive light. “Folks seemed interested and happy that their neighborhood could have some positive impact directed toward them.”
A meeting with investor/owners within the neighborhood is scheduled for May 15.
“We hope to recruit several of the duplex/triplex owners to participate and/or encourage their tenants to participate,” said Peters.
The next step following the collection of surveys, is to define the final program area—the specific homes they will focus on—and begin site visits for the physical property assessments and developing the work programs to identify the specific needs of each. All that information will be included in the final grant application submitted to the DHCD in March 2020 for implementation funding. Jonas expects the project to have a three-year horizon for completion.