Improving the neighborhood
ALPENA -It is the goal of most communities to improve neighborhoods, provide quality housing and allow for people with low income be able to find comfortable living quarters. Over the course of the last 13 years the City of Alpena’s Neighborhood Rental Rehab Program has helped to obtain these three goals locally.
The city makes funding requests through MSHDA and if money is allocated to the city it is then distributed to local property owners who agree to specific terms to make improvements on their rental units. The work can range from interior improvements, to new roofs, windows and stairs. The work, is completed by contractors who have completed the city’s bid process do most of the work while not displacing the occupants of the rental.
City Manager Greg Sundin said since 2,000 the city has received five grants from MSHDA worth $1,032,410. With the money 71 rental units have been improved and 11 more are in the process of getting a makeover.
Sundin said in order to be considered for funds landlords must comply with several obligations set by MSHDA. The landlord makes a 25 percent match in investment into the project and also agrees to charge its renters a rate that is established by MSHDA. It must keep these rates in place for five years and can only rent to verified low income tenants and at no point can the rent be increased.
The first couple times the city received grants for rental property improvements there was a high demand for funds and they were distributed on a first come, first served basis, Sundin said. He said the response was so overwhelming that measures needed to be taken to reduce the demand. A updated regulation by MSHDA helped the city do that.
“It used to be a city-wide project, but we had people staying up all night in front of city hall the night before the pre-applications were accepted, but then the rules changed and we had to target specific areas,” Sundin said. “It started out as kind of a lottery really.”
Sundin said when a property owner applies for a portion of the grant money the city inspects the rental and makes sure the owner is on the city’s rental inspection list. The city also reviews the application, inspects the unit, contacts the renters about the details of the project and puts it out for bid before the work begins. Building Official Don Gilmet said after the application process is done he conducts a housing quality standard inspection to be sure there are not other things in the unit that need to be done to bring the property up to the set standard.
“The standards could dictate if there are other things that need to be done, like additional electrical outlets, switches or something of that nature,” Gilmet said. “It is a pass or fail inspection and anything that isn’t there or in poor condition is addressed and then they have a wish list and I look into what they want to have done and then I do a cost estimate on what I expect the cost will be to have the work done. If they still want to proceed then we move on to a lead inspection and a report for the contractors about any lead that may be in the paint.”
Carol and Michael Lund have six units on Ninth Avenue improved nearly five years ago. Carol Lund said the units received a new roof, windows and kitchen. Their obligations to MSHDA and the city are nearly complete and she thinks the program is a benefit to not only property owners, but the renters and the entire area as well.
“The program is absolutely perfect and we are absolutely thrilled by the assistance that was provided and with the way things turned out,” Lund said. “We have always tried to provide affordable housing to low income people and quality living areas. When the work was complete you could really see the pride our tenants took in taking care of the remodeling and how proud they were to have their homes improved. It is a tremendous program and I would recommend it to anyone.”
Lund said after seeing the work that was done to the property she noticed others who lived in the neighborhood making improvements of their own. She said there were some that were small and some larger, but no matter the size it helped make the neighborhood a little more appealing.
Sundin said he has noticed the same things. He said it is not uncommon for one improvement to be made with the help of the program and then others follow suit, even without the financial assistance. He said the improved property is beneficial to everyone.
“The city benefits in several ways because of this,” Sundin said. “It provides affordable prices and stability for what the rent is going to be for at least five years. It has had in many cases a significant impact on the neighborhoods. People see improvements and decide they need to do something as well. The program has done a lot of good and I hope to keep it around for as long as we can.”