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County delays action on housing program
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – Despite assurances the county would not have to provide any money for the program, the Trinity County Commissioners Court postponed action on a rural, low-income housing program. Commissioners tabled action until Feb. 25 to give County Attorney Joe W. Bell a chance to review the application and confirm the county is not obligating itself to any money. Pct. 3 Commissioner Neal Smith, who took office Jan. 1, brought the program to the attention of commissioners. Smith had served on the Trinity City Council prior to taking his county office on Jan. 1 and had been involved with the city's HOME Program for the past 15 years. "I think this is one of the greatest grant programs that the federal government has ever come up with," Smith said. "It has been a big success in Trinity where we have been able to replace a number of old, dilapidated homes with new, modern structures," he said. During their meeting Monday, commissioners met with Martha Drake and Donna Johnson of Grant Works regarding the federally funded HOME Program. Grant Works is a consulting company that administers these types of grants throughout Texas. Johnson, who oversees the HOME Program grants for the company, noted the federal grants were designed to help "hard working people" who cannot afford to repair or replace their homes. To be eligible for the grants, those applying must own and live in the home to be replaced, must have all of their property taxes paid in full and must meet income guidelines. While senior citizens are often the beneficiaries of these grants, Johnson noted there is no age requirement. She also noted that depending on the size of grant awarded to each homeowner, they have to agree to live in the home from between 5-15 years after it is completed. "The program does not want to spend $70,000 to replace a home and then have the homeowner turn around and try to resell it for a profit," she noted. Under the program, the county could replace up to 10 homes but could then re-apply to do up to another 10. Johnson noted the deadline for filing the application and selecting a grant administrator is in mid-March. During the presentation, it was noted that in the past the program required local governments to provide some type of match – either in money, material or labor – in order to obtain the federal funds. However, Johnson noted that because Trinity County's population is less than 50,000, they are now exempted from the requirement. Smith noted when it was required to contribute a match, the City of Trinity provided the water and sewer hookups plus some of the site preparation work if needed. However, under the new HOME Program rules, Smith said the city no longer has to do any type of match in order to qualify for the program. Johnson also assured commissioners the grant would pay all costs and the county would only act as a "pass through" agency. It would receive the grant money and then write the checks to the contractors. She added under the work-flow system that Grant Works has developed, the only payments the county would have to make prior to the arrival of the grant money would be about a $1,000 per house fee for a title search. "That will be reimbursed by the grant but you will have to write the checks for it before the money comes in. You will not have to write any other checks before you have the grant money in your bank," she said. It was the issue of matching funds and the out-of-pocket costs that prevented commissioners from moving forward with the program on Monday. To apply for the grant, the county had to approve a resolution in which they agree to provide matching funds "if applicable" and agree to be willing to pay up to $80,000 in advance before receiving reimbursement. Johnson said the resolution is worded that way by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) due to past problems with other applicants. TDHCA oversees most of Texas grant programs under a contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). She noted the small size of the county means the match is not applicable and that in the more than 50 other programs administered by Grant Works, no city or county has had to pay more than the title search fees before they were reimbursed. Smith echoed the assurance, noting that in the City of Trinity's case, they had to pledge to pay up to $85,000 before receiving reimbursement but in all the years the program has been in place, that has never happened. County Judge Doug Page and the other commissioners expressed support for the program in general, but said they wanted Bell to review the application documents before they approved them. It was indicted that the matter would be placed on the agenda for their Feb. 25 meeting for action. Other action During the meeting, commissioners also: • Appointed Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover "Tiger" Worsham as the county's environmental management director. • Approved the application for participation in the Forgivable Loan Program grant administered by the Deep East Texas Council of Governments. The grant provides funds for businesses impacted by Hurricane Ike. • Formally proclaimed February as Black History Month in Trinity County. • Received a report from Trinity County 4-H Council members regarding their recent trip to Austin.