Eugene City Council reallocated $150,000 to the city’s Emergency and Minor Home Repairs (EMHR) program, which assists low-income homeowners and tenants with emergency and accessibility-related home repairs. The program experienced a higher demand than usual for repair assistance this winter, according to City Grants Manager Michael Wisth, and had exhausted its funding for fiscal year 2014. Funds were taken from the city’s microenterprise development program.
“Seasonally, when you get extended circumstances, the phone rings more often,” City Home Purchase and Rehabilitation Specialist Bob Briscoe says. “A lot of people call because they woke up that morning and didn’t have water. They didn’t have water because their pipes are frozen, and maybe some of those turned out to be pipes that broke.” Eugene weathered an ice storm in early February, only months after an extended spell of below freezing temperatures in December.
The program provides homeowners and tenants whose income is 50 percent or less of the local area median income with grants and no-interest loans of up to $5,000. Wisth says repairs commonly funded by the EMHR program include wheelchair ramp construction, hazardous electrical system upgrades, leaky roof replacement and blocked sewage line repair. Briscoe says the majority of recipients are seniors, disabled or both.
The $150,000 has been reprogrammed from unused funds previously allocated for microenterprise assistance and property acquisition for housing development, which, along with the EMHR, are funded through the Community Development Block Grant — a federally funded Housing and Urban Development grant. Wisth says funds from microenterprise development became available following the closing of eDev, a long-time provider of microenterprise training and consultation.
Four city councilors, including Claire Syrett, expressed concern about removing funding from microenterprise assistance.
“I’m worried about the opportunities that we’re missing out on right now as our economy is just really starting to come back in some coherent way — that we’re maybe shutting some people out,” Syrett says.