By Debbie Adams
According to Vinton Assistant Town Manager and Economic Development Director Pete Peters, “the Town of Vinton recently submitted a Pre-Planning Grant Application Summary to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) regarding our desire to develop a Housing Rehabilitation Program for our downtown neighborhoods.”
Peters said that “the project was accepted (by DHCD) to proceed to Phase 2 of the grant application process and we have been authorized to receive up to $30,000 reimbursement for this next phase of plan development.”
Jason Sams, DHCD Community Development Specialist, was assigned to the project and conducted a Facilitated Planning Strategy (FPS) meeting on March 19 at the Municipal Building. His role is to assist with this next phase in which the town will prioritize the focus of the project, establish a work plan and timeline, and develop a program budget.
The work plan and draft budget reviewed at the meeting on March 19 will be submitted back to the DHCD within seven days. The submitted paperwork is DHCD’s opportunity to determine if there is sufficient interest and need to consider Vinton as a grant candidate for the substantial funding of a grant of $1 million or more, which will facilitate rehabilitation and construction.
Prior to authorization of the $30,000 grant, the town received a grant for $3,000 for preliminary planning as Phase 1 last fall. The initial grant was used for a “windshield inventory” of several identified neighborhoods in Vinton (Jefferson Park, Cleveland Avenue, and Midway) to help pinpoint areas to be targeted for rehabilitation. That inventory was completed by consultants David Hill and Evie Sloan.
The Downtown Management Team 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 Vinton 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.
Peters explained that the additional $27,000 in grant funds is for prep work for the actual construction grant application due in March of 2019. This includes holding public hearings and community meetings, environmental reviews of the selected areas, physical housing inspections, engineering/design and cost estimates. This phase is for the locality to determine if the implementation of the project is feasible by determining the full extent of needs, whether sufficient homeowner/tenant interest is present, and if the Town has the capacity and resources to successfully manage the grant, including consideration of local matching dollars, staff time, and the like.
The grants are for reimbursable expenses, so the town must spend them first before they can request grant funds.
If the town should become eligible for the $1 million grant, it would be administered by the town to the owners as a no-interest loan, adapted individually according to income level with a feasible payback schedule. The town would facilitate the use of the grant funds for the owners.
Applicants could be eligible for approximately $25,000 in funding to rehabilitate eligible housing units.
During the March 19 meeting, Sams commented that the Town of Vinton is, in fact, “way ahead of the game” due to the strategic planning they have been involved with for years, especially in applying for and receiving the CDBG Downtown Revitalization Grant. The town has also completed comprehensive planning in applying for grants identifying Urban Development Areas and Brownfields.
Sams advised the committee to zero in on a small number of homes to be rehabilitated–“less is best” in this case. He emphasized that “life, health, and safety” are the main considerations in implementing the rehabilitation funds.
One of the biggest factors in the success of a housing rehabilitation program is citizen buy-in. The town must hold two public hearings and several community meetings to recruit home owners and landlords willing to make the commitment to participate. Legalities are involved with deeds of trust being placed on those homes participating.
Preparation of the Comprehensive Planning Grant Proposal appears quite challenging. Full-blown housing assessments of at least two homes must be completed by housing rehab specialists. Itemized cost estimates of targeted homes must be submitted.
Lists of qualified contractors, including lead abatement contractors, must be identified. Self-verified “Ability to Pay” calculations must be prepared by interested households and Participation Agreements signed.
Needs assessments of neighborhoods including utilities, drainage, streets, sidewalks, lighting, landscaping, and even broadband availability must be completed and mapped.
The required Environmental Review includes evaluations by the Department of Historic Resources (DHR).
“It is even possible that the Town won’t submit for the full grant ($1M+), and that is why we are going through these initial steps to determine the extent of the project and feasibility of pursuing it,” said Peters.