Friday, July 01, 2005

Why I learned to use my own power tools

Along with my usual column, I realize that this particular blogsite will make a fairly good forum for a slightly different project of mine. It is quite a long and complex story, so I will ask your indulgence as I post it piecemeal, occasionally out of chronological order, between and around my weekly column postings. I have changed names to protect individuals from potential repercussions, but otherwise, I strive to stick to facts.

Today: Installment one: The Application

It seemed like a good idea all around. The State of Illinois had authorized WIRC to spend a little over $300,000 on our district, to help the bottom bracket live like human beings, instead of filling up the high-rise retirement complex with young, aggressive po' folks, turning it into a downstate Cabrini Green, and letting them all duke it out for parking and public space usage.

For Hedda, it was a godsend. Her house was small, dark, and aging rapidly. For its size, the house required great sums of money (and not just from the perspective of an impoverished person) to heat and light it. She was uncertain when the wiring would go pfft and light a fire in the old plywood paneling, and she and her family would be out in the street looking at the ashes of their home. The rough plank floors beneath her well-loved rugs had a slope sufficient to make a game of marbles more than one-sided. Her kitchen was dark, her stove was older and more stubborn than she was. Hedda's small dining table served also as a worktop for cooking, as a shelf to hold drying dishes, a storage shelf, and as a desk for all her personal and professional paperwork. The plumbing in both kitchen and bath had leaked for years, weakening the floors beneath. The roof, too, had leaked around the old chimney, eating away at the ceiling and walls nearby, and the chimney... well, the chimney could be taken apart with her bare hands, the mortar was so far gone.

With a cat, a dog, and a teenager sharing her quarters, the cramped space seemed that much bleaker.

Face it. Hedda was desperate to get help for her house.

At the initial meeting in Downtown Monmouth, the people from the Macomb office handed out leaflets, explained their project and how it was designed to work, and took signatures of those who were still interested in risking a little of their futures. Hedda made an appointment for them to come look at her woeful living conditions.

The inspectors agreed with most of her assessments, and the discussion was begun. The office authorized nearly $30,000 in one of those forgivable loans. She would need to hire a contractor, first, to shore up her sagging floor, jack up one side, and allow the house to restabilize before any other work could begin. Meanwhile, she would take bids from certified lead-removal experts to come carefully remove her windows and their framing, remove baseboards, and remove or wrap/seal any other non-removable lead-painted surfaces.

Hedda, like many others, chose to take advantage of the seemingly generous ten-year forgivable state loan to improve her house. As long as she remains in her home, each year a portion of the loan is paid off by the state, but if she chooses to leave and sell the house, she must pay the remainder of the debt herself. The purpose behind this loan program is to assist low-income families to buy homes of their own, and to bring the homes of other low-income families of the region up to code, as well as to encourage greater stability in the community.

So far, so good.

To be continued...

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