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Heating aid project keys on furnaces

City taps $150,000 for low-cost, 5-year loan initiative

– Karma Rowe was tired of the same thing happening every winter.

Just as the city of Fort Wayne’s annual home repair program was out of money, the Community Development loan specialist would start getting calls from people with no way to heat their house.

“Every year we’d get calls from people without furnaces,” Rowe said. “They’re using a stove for heat, or a space heater, and I’d have to say, ‘Call back in the spring when we have more money.’ ”

So when officials were figuring out how to divvy up the federal Community Development Block Grant the city receives each year, they decided to keep the $350,000 dedicated to the home repair program, and add $150,000 for a winter heating program.

The program provides low-interest, five-year loans for up to $5,000 to replace or repair failing furnaces or water heaters. Monthly payments on the loans range from $25 to $90, though officials said that because furnaces are usually far less than $5,000, the average payment would be around $40.

Heather Presley-Cowen, the city’s director of the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services, said the program fits into the city’s strategy of targeting barriers to keeping people in owner-occupied homes.

Many people who qualify for the program have decent credit and on the surface appear to be able to finance a purchase such as a furnace or hot water heater. But they can’t get the loan because their home values are too low.

“The fact that we have affordable housing in Fort Wayne is a great thing, but it’s also a problem if people haven’t saved up to pay for a major repair,” Presley-Cowen said.

The program is limited to those with incomes at or below 80 percent of the area’s median income, $51,050 for a family of four.

And officials stress it is a loan that has to be paid back, though with a 3 percent interest rate and payments spread over five years, it is affordable to those who qualify.

Rowe said the program has received a few applications but they haven’t been completed yet. She expects that will change when winter sets in and people realize they can’t make it without heat.

The application process is free and can be time-consuming, Rowe said, because the federal government requires income documentation.

After the application is complete, the process can move quickly, she said.

To speed the repairs, officials set up a system where Coe Heating & Air Conditioning do an inspection and write up what repairs or replacements are needed. That information is then sent to a preset list of five companies to bid on the job. And since all of it can be done by email and fax, it can be just a matter of days between the initial inspection and installation and repair, officials said.

dstockman@jg.net

Winter heating program

The city of Fort Wayne’s winter heating program provides low-interest, five-year loans to repair or replace failing furnaces or water heaters to those with incomes at or below 80 percent of the area’s median income, currently $51,050 for a family of four. Get more information at 427-8585 or www.cityoffortwayne.org/repairs.

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