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Home Repair Assistance for Veterans in West Virginia

A photograph taken at ground level showing the rear façade of a one-story, single-family detached house that was selected for renovations under the Fairmont-Morgantown Housing Authority’s home repair program for veterans.
Under the Fairmont-Morgantown Housing Authority’s home repair program for veterans, this home was chosen to receive a new furnace, smoke detectors, doors, and windows. Image courtesy of Fairmont-Morgantown Housing Authority.
A new program administered by the Fairmont-Morgantown Housing Authority (FMHA) is helping veterans in five West Virginia counties increase the energy efficiency and accessibility of their homes. The program, the first of its kind for a housing authority in West Virginia, provides forgivable loans for home repairs to low-income veterans, active service members, and their surviving spouses in Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor counties.

Veterans in West Virginia

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 70,000 veterans reside in north-central West Virginia and adjacent counties in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio. The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent estimates indicate that close to 22,000 of these veterans live within the program’s five-county jurisdiction in West Virginia. Many surviving spouses, who are also eligible for the repair assistance program, live in West Virginia, according to Amy Hammond, rehabilitation specialist for FMHA. Veterans in this area have access to important resources, including the Morgantown Vet Center (Monongalia County) as well as the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg (Harrison County) and its community-based outpatient clinic in Westover (Monongalia County).

A program focusing on home repairs is especially needed in the five counties, where in 2011, an estimated 66 percent of homes were more than 30 years old and an estimated 40 percent of homes were more than 50 years old. The program targets owner-occupied housing in an area where the rate of home ownership (70% in 2011) is slightly higher than the national rate (66%).

Eligible Improvements, Properties, and Households

Through the home rehabilitation program, which debuted in January 2013, FMHA seeks to give back to veterans in need. The program offers loans for qualifying home improvements to veterans, active military service members, or their surviving spouses who earn less than 80 percent of the median income for each county. An eligible home, including manufactured homes, mobile homes, and townhomes, must be in a one- to four-unit property and must be the loan applicant’s primary residence.

The loans can be used for repairs and renovations that improve energy efficiency, such as the installation of low-flow plumbing fixtures, insulation improvements, and upgrades to heating and air conditioning systems. The program also funds home modifications that enhance accessibility, including widening doorways, adding exterior ramps, and installing grab bars in bathrooms. Homeowners can choose from a list of approved contractors maintained by FMHA or find other contractors for the work, provided they are licensed and insured. A lien is placed on the house once the loan is taken out, although no payments are collected. One-fifth of the loan is forgiven annually as long as the house is not sold or transferred during that five-year period.

A Needed Source of Funding

Even though the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center offers grants for accessibility improvements to veterans with medical needs, veterans have previously had no financial support for general home rehabilitation or for energy-efficiency repairs and upgrades. Active service members and surviving spouses also are not eligible for the medical center’s grants. These gaps are filled by FMHA’s $1.6 million program, funded by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, with United Bank serving as an intermediary. FMHA hopes to coordinate with the medical center to refer homeowners to the authority for energy-efficiency improvements and other improvements not covered by the medical center’s grant program.

Aiding Low-Income Veterans and Military Service Members

According to Hammond, who administers the FMHA program, area institutions and organizations providing services to veterans were eager for the program to begin. FHMA has notified those organizations that the program is underway, so that they can help reach out to area veterans. In the meantime, about 20 veterans and surviving spouses have applied to the FHMA program, seeking such repairs as new furnaces, doors, windows, and smoke detectors.