Paralyzed from a swimming accident 36 years ago, Mission resident Carl Siefering is unable to care for the home he has lived in for the past 33 years.
Siefering is only able to sit up in a wheelchair for several hours daily. In November, Mission Possible, a housing program operated by the city, stepped up to help.
Volunteers from Johnson County Water District 1 assisted by Habitat for Humanity/Kansas City and the city of Mission spent a weekday scraping and painting his house to bring it up to city code standards. They also raked his yard, disposed of leaves and trimmed bushes.
“I’m ecstatic that they’re painting my house,” Siefering said. “They’re making it possible for me to stay in my home. I’ve been concerned about taking care of it.”
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Siefering is one of many Johnson County residents benefiting from housing assistance programs offered by a number of communities as well as the county. Typically, the programs provide funding for minor home repairs, including paint, roofing, siding, gutters and window replacement.
While some of these programs have financial eligibility requirements, others provide grants with the only qualification that the home be located within the city and be owner-occupied rather than rentals.
Housing assistance programs also benefit cities because participants are sometimes residents who don’t have sufficient income to comply with city codes to upgrade their home.
“These programs enable us to help people who otherwise would be unable to care for their homes,” said Nilo Fanska, Mission’s neighborhood services officer. “In Carl’s case we’re helping him to remain in his home.”
There are some obvious benefits for volunteers too.
“It’s good we’re doing this...It’s for a great cause,” said Chante Mitchell, a University of Kansas student interning at Johnson County Water District 1 and a volunteer on the Siefering project.
Fanska said Mission began working with Habitat for Humanity through its Brush With Kindness program on the house painting project about a year ago.
“The holdup was the home tested positive for lead paint, which needed to be abated before work could begin,” he said.
Steve Thompson, Habitat for Humanity’s vice president of construction, said Johnson County Water District 1 provided the $5,000 needed for the lead abatement.
Brush With Kindness is currently on hold due to a merger between the Kansas and Missouri Habitat for Humanity organizations, Thompson said, but he hopes the program will be reinstated in the spring.
Habitat for Humanity Kansas City and Heartland Habitat for Humanity merged on July 1. Now known as Habitat for Humanity/Kansas City, the organization serves six counties in the Kansas City region, including Johnson County.
Another Mission resident who has received help through Mission Possible said maintaining a home is difficult on a fixed income. He asked not be named.
“My wife and I are both on Social Security, and any extra money we have has gone to pay my medical bills,” he said. “I’ve had a brain tumor and prostate cancer, so we’ve had a lot of medical expenses.”
The 50-year Mission resident qualified for $2,000 in city assistance, which was used to replace his home’s original windows severely damaged from wood rot.
The 85-year-old resident has been retired for 20 years. “The program is wonderful for those of us who want to stay in our homes and are physically and mentally able to do so but don’t always have the money to keep up our homes,” he said.
Fanska said Mission Possible has been in existence about eight years. The program provides financial assistance for low- and medium-income families to use for minor home repairs. About $35,000 is allocated to the program annually.
“The number of residents served varies from year to year, but this year we’ve had 25 projects in progress or completed,” Fanska said. Residents can qualify for amounts ranging from $500 to $2,000.
In Prairie Village, Kirk and Rachel Chonis took advantage of that city’s exterior grant program earlier this year. The young couple received a grant to help improve the exterior of their first home.
The project involved adding new windows, entry doors, siding, fascia and gutters to their home at 79th Street and Roe Avenue. The city reimburses residents for 20 percent of total project costs. On Monday, the city council approved lowering the minimum eligible amount of a project from $5,000 to $2,500. The maximum grant award is $2,500 .
“Getting money back was very helpful,” said Kirk Chonis. “The city is acknowledging that neighborhoods are aging and they’re willing to put money back into the neighborhoods to help homeowners improve the appearance of their homes.”
To apply for the program, Chonis said he submitted the scope and projected total project cost to the city. Once the improvements were completed, a city inspector examined the project to ensure the work met city codes. Receipts were scanned to make sure all costs had been paid.
“It was extremely easy,” he said. “The city even allows you to do some of the work yourself, providing leeway and options.”
Prairie Village City Administrator Quinn Bennion said Prairie Village was overwhelmed by requests when it first instituted a housing assistance program.
“In the early years of our programs we had lines of people waiting to pick up applications the day the process started,” Bennion said. “It’s not as many people now, but we still use our entire budget annually,” which amounts to about $70,000.
Lenexa implemented a minor home repair grant program earlier this year. Since then, the city has been inundated with requests from residents for grant money available from the $50,000 program, said Angel Whitaker, community standards supervisor.
“We will only be able to help eight to 10 people and we’ve already had requests from 70 people,” she said.
Homeowners who qualify receive grants for minor home repairs such as exterior wood rot repair and paint; roof, window, door or gutter repair or replacement; foundation repair; and accessibility modifications.
Olathe offers three programs to help residents with home repairs and modifications. These involve a deferred loan program, which enables residents who need to make major repairs apply for interest-free loans that are deferred until the property is sold; an emergency repair program; and an accessibility modification program for income eligible homeowners.
David Parnell, coordinator of Olathe’s Housing Rehabilitation program, said the city receives about 30 applications a year for housing assistance.
A nonprofit organization operating in Shawnee enables residents to remain in their homes. Rebuilding Together Shawnee is affiliated with Rebuilding Together, a national nonprofit low-income home repair organization. It is dedicated to helping elderly, disabled and economically disadvantaged homeowners. Services are provided free to those in need.
Cities also provide financial support to a housing assistance program operated by Johnson County. By providing funds, residents of those cities are able to participate in the program. Among the participating communities are Overland Park, Shawnee, Merriam, Prairie Village, Leawood and Roeland Park.
The programs include a HOME Investment Partnership program and a Minor Home Rehabilitation program.
The HOME program was authorized in 1990 and is primarily funded by the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, said Sharon Watson, Johnson County director of public affairs and communication. Fourteen projects have been completed under the program this year.
The program is designed to bring a home into compliance with local housing codes. Assistance is provided as a deferred payment loan, interest-free and is forgiven 10 percent per year for 10 years. If the property changes ownership, the remaining amount of the loan must be repaid.
The county also operates the Minor Home Rehabilitation Program, which is funded by HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program for Johnson County and Overland Park and Shawnee. A total of 54 projects have been completed under the program this year.
About 80 people are on the waiting list for the HOME program. There is no wait list for the minor home rehab program.
While the need for housing assistance remains steady, available funds are declining due to cutbacks in federal funds, Watson said.
That’s not been a problem in Mission, which has funds available to continue to support its Mission Possible program, Fanska said.
“We’re really fortunate to have this program because we receive immediate satisfaction from helping people,” he said. “It’s very rewarding.”