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Eager to help, local housing assistance agency short on clients; Monies available for home repairs

By Staff | Apr 3, 2008

With the city mired in an economic downturn and real estate continuing to slump, the Cape Coral Housing Rehabilitation and Development Corporation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping lower income residents fix up their houses, is facing a financial problem — not enough people are asking for assistance.

“Very few people are calling us looking to do home repairs,” said Weezer Murphy, executive director of the organization.

Dozens of residents who are getting hooked up to city utilities have received assistance through CDBG monies, as those funds cover some of the hookup costs. But Murphy has about $200,000 to $250,000 in SHIP funds, originally set aside in the 2005 to 2006 fiscal year, that must be spent by the end of June. Any funds that are not spent will be taken away from the city and will go unused.

“As long as we have got it, we want to spent it to help people,” she said. “There must be people out there that don’t know about us that we can help.”

Murphy believes a lack of public knowledge is one of the prime reasons that the organization has been unable to use up its SHIP money. Strict qualification guidelines and credit checks may also play a part.

The corporation jumps through hoops on a daily basis to vet those who call and ask for assistance. The first question staff ask, according to Murphy, is whether callers are up-to-date on their mortgages. Many people have been turned away because they are behind on payments.

“We don’t want to spend money on a house that is going to be foreclosed,” she said. “It’s a Catch-22. They need help but their mortgages are behind.”

For those who do qualify as very low or low income — $20,950 for one person to $47,900 for a family of four — the agency performs a wide range of repairs. Construction coordinator Charles Karpinski pointed out that the group pays for work ranging from roofs to plumbing, and from air conditioning to window replacement.

SHIP funds can even pay for a basic kitchen or bathroom renovation — the catch of course is that the work needs to be considered necessary.

Cosmetic work is tougher to justify, but subcontractors will go so far as repainting houses for the elderly and disabled. The money can also go toward remodeling the interior and exterior of a home to make it handicapped accessible.

Able-bodied individuals cannot receive state and federal funds to pay for projects like house repaintings, however the agency will pay for the cost of materials

Murphy noted that the organization does not place signs in front of a home receiving rehabilitation help — neighbors will only see the contractors performing their tasks.

While she lauded groups like Habitat for Humanity, Murphy pointed out that those homes are usually constructed in a “cookie cutter” style, whereas the Cape Coral Housing Rehabilitation and Development Corporation preserves the look of the original home as it was built.

“We’re maintaining and upgrading the appearance of local neighborhoods,” she said.

The SHIP grant money sitting in reserve is also somewhat of an unused economic stimulus. Karpinski said the agency bids out to mostly Cape subcontractors, most of whom are currently starving for work.

“We give work back to the neighborhood,” he said. “I’ve gone through several different recessions and this is the worst I’ve seen it.”

The agency has completed more than 700 jobs since its inception and usually works at a clip of 40 to 50 projects a month. Yet the group has only four housing rehabilitation jobs presently in the works. Murphy believes it is all a matter of getting the word out to as many people as possible to find residents who need the agency’s help.

“They’re probably out there more than ever,” she said.