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By Anne O’Connor

aoconnor@ nashobavalleyvoice.com

For low- to moderate-income homeowners, bringing their home up to code can be cost-prohibitive.

For example, a middle-class, moderate-income family might be juggling expenses and cannot afford to bring their septic system into compliance.

Over the past seven years, the Community Development Block Grant Program has distributed $237 million in federal funds to stabilize communities. The money has been used for housing rehabilitation for health and safety, to repair public infrastructure and for public buildings.

This year, Shirley and Townsend are partnering to apply for a nearly $1 million CDBG grant through the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. The funds come from the federal government as part of the Housing and Community Development Act.

These block grants can help to stabilize a community by allowing residents to remain in their homes, said Brian Keating, community development manager at Montachusett Regional Planning Commission. MRPC administers some of the CDBG grants in the region.

MRPC recommended pairing Shirley as the lead applicant with Townsend to make the application more competitive, Keating said.

Together, the two towns have enough residents to qualify. Shirley’s higher community-wide needs score, 30, will be the score that applies to the entire application. Townsend scored 22.

As part of the pre-application process, both towns held hearings with MRPC about the grant.

Working with town officials, MRPC identified target areas within the towns. If the grant is approved, most of the grant will need to be spent in the target areas, but some can be used in other neighborhoods, Keating said.

Shirley Village is the target area in Shirley. In Townsend, the area south of Route 119 including Timberlee Park is targeted.

As part of the application, MRPC is asking for pre-applications from homeowners. They are not actual applications for the grant but they help prove the need for the funding, Keating said.

The pre-applications are at the town halls and MRPC is doing a mailing, Keating said. They are due at the end of January.

The application to DHCD is due in February and Keating expects to hear sometime around July if Shirley and Townsend have received funds.

If the grant is approved, then official applications from homeowners will be collected. Homeowners must prove income eligibility. A lien will be placed on the property and a promissory note issued.

MRPC will pre-qualify contractors that the homeowners can hire. They also contract with inspectors to go to the homes and conduct lead and asbestos tests.

Projects needing abatement jump to the top of the queue, Keating said.

Not all projects will qualify and there is a $30,000 cap on each project. The cap jumps to $35,000 if abatement is needed.

Work at individual homes would not begin until around March of 2017.

If the individual grant recipient remains in the home for 15 years, the grant is forgiven. If the home is sold or the owner moves out, a percentage of the grant will need to be repaid. The towns can use this money for a limited number of things, Keating said.

As the lead applicant, Shirley is eligible for up to 65 percent of the award and Townsend for 35 percent. Up to 30 percent can go to MRPC to administer the grant. Usually it takes about 25 percent of the award to properly administer the grant, said Glenn Eaton, executive director of MRPC.

The DHCD website has information about awards going back to 2007. Shirley has not received any CDBG funds since then. Townsend was in a group of four towns that received a $1.2 million grant in 2007.

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