Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 14, 2014

Housing trust fund seeks contribution from county

By DIANE VANCE, Ledger staff writer | Jan 16, 2013

Jefferson County Board of Supervisors listened Monday to a request to help fund the Regional Housing Trust Fund in a new way — having each county contribute 15-cents per capita, or in Jefferson County’s case, $2,526.45 annually.

“We’re looking for a pledge,” said Ellen Foudree, director of Area 15 Regional Planning.

The supervisors took no vote Monday because the agenda item specified only meeting with Foudree.

Area 15 Regional Planning includes Jefferson, Davis, Keokuk, Mahaska, Van Buren and Wapello counties. The Housing Trust Fund, started in 2011, said Foudree, works to “preserve and expand affordable housing in the region,” she said.

“The state Legislature appropriates $3 million annually, or 42-cents per capita. The local match is $1 for every $4 received,” said Foudree. “Since 2011, the Housing Trust Fund has provided the local match. To be sustainable, the board came up with a formula to ask for per capita contributions. Jefferson County’s $2,526.45 annual funding provides a return investment of $12,632.25 in Jefferson County housing.”

The program serves households at or below 80 percent of either the Median Family Income as determined by the Iowa Finance Authority or at or below 80 percent Mortgage Rate Base from the U.S, Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to information on the website, www.area15rpc.com under the Regional Housing Trust Fund topic.

Projects must retain and improve structural integrity of the house or housing unit. Owner-occupied and rental units can qualify.

“Our general relief fund has greatly benefited [from funds appropriated by the Regional Housing Trust Fund],” said Lee Dimmitt, chairman of the board of supervisors and a board member of Area 15 Regional Planning.

“I haven’t had to use the reimbursements counties provide,” said Ray Chambers, director of the county’s General Assistance program.

Foudree said if this region doesn’t use the appropriated funds, the money gets redistributed to other regions in Iowa.

“No one [in Jefferson County] has taken advantage of the housing loans,” she said. “We have partnered with Habitat for Humanity. All the efforts of the Housing Trust Funds are to prevent homelessness.”

Dimmitt said he and Tracy Vance, director of Fairfield Economic Development Association, attended city council meetings in Jefferson County’s towns to inform the city governments about the housing rehabilitation help available.

“All communities in Jefferson County are eligible,” Dimmitt said. “These dollars actually do come back to benefit the county. Rehabilitation provides economic development in one way by increasing property valuation and higher property taxes.”

Supervisor Dick Reed said as supervisors work on the county budget, to add another request for funding would likely mean raising taxes or cutting something else.

“Several programs are already out there, such as RSVP weatherization,” said Reed.

RSVP weatherization includes adding plastic on windows, said Dimmitt.

“It’s a pretty minimal step,” said Dimmitt. “We’re actually saving money [using the Regional Housing Trust Fund] and funneling it back into general funds. We’ve received almost $27,000 that goes to our general relief program. And Jefferson County coordinates with Southern Iowa Economic Development Association, and we don’t overlap programs [on the same households].”

Reed said it looks like a small portion of the housing trust money goes to homes.

“More of those dollars go to general relief,” he said.

Vance said the lack of activity could be attributed to Fairfield City Council not passing a resolution in time for Fairfield to be eligible to use the program for one year after the trust fund began in 2011.

“We’ve had various housing projects out there for a long time,” said Reed, a retired independent construction contractor. “I worked on HUD projects in the ’70s and worked on doing projects on homes for people that should not have qualified for such assistance.”

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