By Debbie Adams
In 2017 the Town of Vinton applied for and received a $3,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for preliminary planning on a project for housing rehabilitation in neighborhoods adjacent to the Downtown Business District.
The funds were to be used for a “windshield inventory” of several neighborhoods (Jefferson Park, Cleveland, and Midway were selected using past studies) with a committee formed to serve as the Downtown Management Team. Their task was to help determine the feasibility of implementing such a program and to pinpoint neighborhoods to be targeted for rehabilitation. The assessment inventory was completed by consultants David Hill and Evie Sloan in the aforementioned areas.
The staff and the committee first met in December to hear the results of the inventory and to begin forming a plan after a wide-ranging discussion of the housing situation in Vinton where 40 percent of residences are rental properties.
According to United States Census Data compiled by the American Community Survey between 2012 and 2016, the Town of Vinton in 2016 had a population of 8,170 with 3771 housing units—1921 owner-occupied (56.1 percent), 1502 renter-occupied (43.9 percent), and 348 vacant.
Sloan defined the purpose of the housing pre-planning grant as “improving the living conditions of low and moderate income (LMI) families” as income limits are part of the criteria for the grant. DHCD program parameters for LMI in Vinton are based on Roanoke County, which has a median income of $66,900. Low income limits for a four-person family in the county are defined as $52,800; very low income as $33,000; and extremely low as $24,600.
Assistant Town Manager/Economic Development Director Pete Peters says that the town is basically “built out” with little opportunity for new construction. That leaves the town with the option of tearing down existing homes or rehabilitating them to provide better housing.
The town hopes the initial planning grant will lead to an additional grant of about $30,000 in funding to develop a full strategic plan to address housing rehabilitation in Vinton. That may in turn lead to construction funding of up to approximately $1 million for future rehabilitation and construction.
The $30,000 grant includes services of a consultant from DHCD to assist with planning for the subsequent construction program. According to Peters, the consultant might also point the town and interested residents to “other buckets of money available.”
The Town of Vinton staff and the Downtown Management Team have continued to work on the issue of housing rehabilitation in areas adjacent to the downtown business district, meeting again on January 5.
At the December meeting, members were asked to informally survey (drive through) the identified neighborhoods on their own. There was no consensus formed by members by the time of the January 5 meeting on narrowing the scope of the project to specific areas, although there was discussion of eventually focusing on just several blocks, perhaps adjacent to the downtown in both directions radiating out from Pollard Street.
All three initial neighborhoods will be included in the plan submitted to the DHCD for their consideration on January 12. DHCD will review the proposed project and notify the town in the spring as to whether they are eligible for the next step of funding.
The Downtown Management Team did set four goals for the housing rehabilitation project:
- Improve the quality of existing housing and residential living conditions, including infrastructure such sidewalks, fire protection, and access to public transportation.
- Encourage housing investment in established neighborhoods, especially adjacent to downtown, due to being a “built-out” community with few in-fill building lots available.
- Promote first-time home ownership.
- Recover existing upper story housing (above commercial storefronts) within downtown.
As the process continues, Hill and Sloan will be asked to “dig-in further” with some fact-checking to determine which homes might be eligible for rehabilitation funding along with which owner-occupants or investor-owners might meet the LMI requirements and be willing to participate in the project. The town will be actively seeking participants.
If the town receives the $30,000 grant, and becomes eligible for a $1 million grant to the town, it will be administered by the town to the owners as a no-interest loan, adapted individually according to income level and a feasible payback schedule. The town, in essence, facilitates the use of the grant funds for the owners.
Applicants may be eligible for $25,000-$40,000 in funding to rehabilitate eligible housing units, not including mobile homes.
This grant bears some similarity to the Community Development Block Grant of $700,000 from the DHCD which financed improvements to the downtown business district in recent years, although that grant focused on commercial properties, not residential ones as this grant will.
In addition to improvements to private property such as roofs, HVAC systems, fire protection, and other home repairs and upgrades, Peters says that the funds could be used for infrastructure improvements such as town waterlines and sidewalks, although the town would be responsible for matching funds in those cases.
If the town advances to the next step of the process with the awarding of the $30,000 grant, cost estimates will be completed for identified projects, along with determination of which citizens are both eligible and express an interest in participating.
Peters says the town wants to find a manageable and realistic area to focus on for housing rehabilitation with “folks willing to participate.”
He thanked the committee for participating in the early stages of the grant process, saying, “I personally was impressed with the level of interest and enthusiasm displayed at the meetings and I look forward to working with each of you on this program should we receive additional funding to continue our work”.