For the North County Times and Carlsbadistan.com.
Carlsbad city officials can't understand why more low-income homeowners haven't applied for federal funds earmarked for minor home repairs, from clearing clogged drains to installing assistive devices for seniors and disabled persons.
The city pays $8,500 each year to Community HousingWorks, a San Diego nonprofit, to administer the program. In the past three years, only four households have received funding.
At the City Council's March 22 meeting, Councilwoman Farrah Douglas asked Debbie Fountain, director of housing and neighborhood services, to explain how the program has been marketed. Fountain told of postings on the city and HousingWorks websites, direct mailers to the barrio neighborhood, and articles and advertisements in community publications. She singled out word-of-mouth as "pretty successful." Maybe that explains how the two homeowners receiving help last year learned of the program.
After failing to find it on the HousingWorks website, I found the home repair program buried deep within the city's website, but only after plowing through "city services," "list of city departments," "neighborhood services" and "programs." And I had the advantage of knowing what I was looking for.
What I found was the "minor home repair program manual" featuring a complex loan application. You can borrow up to $5,000 in an interest-free loan ---- depending on your willingness to provide a copy of the deed to your property, a credit report and IRS tax forms ---- and agree to hire and pay a licensed contractor to do the work for later reimbursement.
Would anyone who needs help fixing a leaky faucet, replacing a broken light switch, installing a smoke alarm or upgrading a faulty toilet take the trouble to apply for this program? You be the judge.
According to San Diego Association of Governments, 1 in 4 Carlsbad households, nearly 10,000 homes, have incomes of less than $30,000 a year. You'd think the city could find more than four who qualify for government assistance for home repairs.
Compare Carlsbad's approach to Escondido's Neighborhood Enhancement, Attractiveness and Training (NEAT) Project. During the past 11 months, Project NEAT completed 262 projects in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. There's no application required and no income limits.
Program administrator Dan Hippert drives through low- and moderate-income neighborhoods on the lookout for homes needing exterior repairs and other evidence of property maintenance needs. Low-income homeowners are offered either financial assistance or the help of volunteers recruited by the city for household repairs or to spruce up their property.
Carlsbad outsources its program to a loan agency, making it available only to those who can find it. Escondido seeks out those in need.
Our Village by the Sea could learn something about public service from its North County neighbor.