Aiding Austin’s aging housing infrastructure

Published 6:50 am Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Housing Redevelopment Authority of Austin has expanded upon its initial Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) to assist those looking to take on larger home improvement projects with CHIP II.

Taggert Medgaarden

Originally an idea of Vision 2020, the initial CHIP loan (now known as CHIP I) was created to assist with outside appearance and integrity repairs and inside repairs that addressed safety concerns. Applicants could receive a maximum loan of $10,000 with a two percent interest rate. Income limitations were placed on eligibility, ranging from a 1-person household making $41,300 or less per year to a 4-person (or more) household making $58,950 or less per year.

While the program proved popular, it was suggested to HRA Executive Director Taggert Medgaarden that CHIP could be better.

“What I was finding were people who were just over that income threshold or had just a little bit of a bigger project,” he said. “It seemed we were missing something.”

Medgaarden applied for a Hormel Foundation grant for a revolving loan fund to support a program that would provide a higher loan. Thus CHIP II came into being.

Under the CHIP II, applicants can receive a maximum $25,000 loan with a two percent interest rate and a loan limit of 10 years. Projects can include home addition, remodels, or a new garage, among other projects.

But the biggest change comes in income eligibility. A 1-person household making $65,000 or less per year is eligible for the loan, as are 2-person households making $75,000 or less per year and 3-person (or more) households making $85,000 or less per year.

As with CHIP I, there are ownership stipulations.

“You have to own it, you have to be in Austin, you have to be current on your taxes and you have to have insurance,” Medgaarden said.

It is also the applicant’s responsibility to have solid quotes.

“The biggest thing is when we do this, they need to have solid estimates and quotes because that’s what we’re basing the loan off of,” Medgaarden said.

When devising the program, Medgaarden referenced the 2017 Austin Housing Study for guidance.

“We have a lot of older houses; what kind of program can we create to help with maintaining our aging housing stock?” he said. “That’s the idea of this program, to try to do something to help people who want to improve their house and help better our aging housing stock.”

Although the program officially started on Jan. 1, Medgaarden said the HRA only recently began marketing. So far, the reception has been positive.

“I have sent applications, taken about a dozen phone calls and about half a dozen emails,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest.”

But the benefit of the loan is not just to the homeowner.

“Not only is this designed to help homeowners make repairs and improvements, but this is good for our local contractors and businesses,” Medgaarden said.

“The one unique thing about these is when we set the loans up, we actually pay the contractors. That’s a level to it the contractors like; they know they’re going to get paid,” he added, noting that the HRA encourages the use of local contractors, but does not require it.

Those interested in a CHIP II loan can pick up an application at the HRA office at 308 Second Ave. NE. A copy of the application can also be found at http://www.austinhra.org/CHIPApp.pdf. Anyone with questions can call the HRA at 507-433-1866.

Once an application has been received, the HRA will set up an appointment with the applicant.

“We hope this program is successful and continues for a long time and has an impact,” Medgaarden said.