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At-risk Chambersburg neighborhood gets a facelift

October 18, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA - The Elm Street program in Chambersburg has been making some changes to the neighborhood around the downtown - one roof, one set of windows or one coat of paint at a time.

When Chambersburg successfully applied to become an Elm Street community, it qualified for $250,000 a year for five years in state funding to improve the at-risk neighborhood, where 67 percent of residents are renters and half of the nearly 1,000 properties are in need of repairs.

Most of the money, which was received in March, was spent by the end of August, said Jack Jones, the Elm Street manager. The majority went to people's homes, with projects ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $11,000, according to Elm Street figures.

"I wanted to button up as many houses as possible before winter. ... With fuel costs, I don't know how some people are going to make it," Annick Kiernan said.

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A flight attendant, Kiernan was one of the first to apply for housing rehabilitation assistance. She thought her income would be too high to qualify, but figured the couple sharing the other half of the duplex would be eligible.

It turned out that she and the couple were eligible, and Kiernan soon began helping others apply for housing rehabilitation money. Before long, she said, Jones asked her to head up Elm Street's Facade Committee, a volunteer position she fills on her days off.

"If you earn over $35,000 a year, we expect you to pay for 10 percent of the project cost," said Jones, who is also president of Building Our Pride In Chambersburg (BOPIC), a children's enrichment program.

More than $135,000 in Elm Street money was spent on home repairs, along with about $15,000 more chipped in by owners, donors, the Franklin County Housing Trust Fund and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

The Elm Street housing rehabilitation program is separate from one the borough has run for years, a combination of grants and low-interest loans to low-income homeowners, Jones said. The borough program, however, served as a template for Elm Street's, particularly the paperwork and procedures, he said.

Elm Street uses the same list of approved contractors as the borough, although Jones said he has been able to expand it by recruiting properly insured and licensed minority contractors.

There is about $49,000 left for housing, and Kiernan said that will probably be divided among nine homes with projects of about $5,000 each. There are about 30 homes on the waiting list and another 30 or so applications still to be returned.

Another aspect of Elm Street is the replacement of crumbling curbs and sidewalks, and leaking sewer laterals. The program has completed or started 20 contracts, Jones said.

Elm Street funds pay for 90 percent or 100 percent of the cost for the homeowners, but it is a dollar-for-dollar match for landlords of rental housing, Jones said.

More than $87,000 has been spent, with about $62,000 in Elm Street money, according to the figures.

Donations from contractors, building supply companies, individuals and organizations will help the Elm Street dollars go farther and repair more homes, Kiernan said.

Elm Street might be getting a cash infusion Oct. 27 when the Chambersburg Borough Council holds a public hearing to reallocate $25,407 in CDBG funds from 2004 to Elm Street.

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