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Home improvement help for homeowners

Keeping up with home improvement projects can be a challenge for any homeowner. And, for someone on a fixed income, the challenge is even greater.
   Prineville's Barbara Hylton is one homeowner who found a way to make necessary repairs, upgraded her heating and cooling system, installed a new kitchen stove and water heater, insulated, and even addressed other long neglected household improvements - and it didn't cost her a cent.
   Hylton is one of four local families who has been able to take advantage of Central Oregon Community action Agency Network's (COCAAN) Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program. These funds are available through a grant from Oregon Housing and Community Services.
   Homeowners with incomes ranging from $26,500 (one person family) to $45,200 (eight person family) are eligible to apply for low- to no-interest home repair loans for up to $20,000.
   Paying back these types of loans doesn't present a problem for those with low and fixed income, as there is no payment due until a change has taken place in the title of the property.
   Program coordinator Luanna Dennis is eager to get the word out, and to sign up more applicants. This year, the organization is offering home improvement loans for a total of 30 families living in Crook County.
   Under COCAAN's supervision the homeowner's satisfaction is paramount. "As senior's we're always getting cheated by unscrupulous people," Hylton pointed out. "That's the good thing about this program, everything is supervised."
   Contractor and owner of Cascade Handyman Services, Gary Ronceray is one contractor working on Hylton's house who has an appreciation for how strict the guidelines are. "The COCAAN program is so supervised from the state right on down," he emphasized. "There's so much of a paper trail it would be impossible for someone to get paid without doing a satisfactory job for the homeowner."
   After the homeowner has filled out an application and is accepted into the program, a state certified inspector visits the site and evaluates the home, and then the contractor is selected. Dennis points out that either COCAAN can make a referral or the contractor can be designated by the homeowner.
   Prior to accepting a bid, whether the contractor is someone referred by COCAAN or someone designated by the homeowner, it's Dennis' job to make sure that that individual has all the required licenses and permits, and that there aren't any claims pending against him.
   "We have required measures that have to be met in order to proceed with the program," she said. Before the contractor gets paid, the home inspector makes a final visit to inspect the work site and to make sure the work has been completed satisfactorily.
   Until the homeowner signs a notice of satisfaction, signifying that they are pleased with the work, there is no money passed on to the contractors. "These kinds of safeguards really help for people who are wary," Ronceray said.
   Health and safety is the also a high priority. Improvements in this area may include making homes handicap accessible. The home repair program is open to anyone who is under 80 percent of the area median income that has at least some equity in their home.
   "Our main goal is to preserve the existing housing stock and to help people stay safe and be a little more comfortable," Dennis said. In addition to increasing the value of the home, COCAAN's low interest home improvement loans also increase safety, and integrity of the structure.
   "The program helps to provide handicap accessibility. I think that's something that people don't necessarily know about," she added. "Even if you have a perfect house, we can come in and help provide the handicap accessibility. It's especially valuable for people who have a hard time getting in and out the shower, or those who need ramps installed, or even if they need a toilet riser or grab bars _ we can help with those things as well."
   Hylton is most enthusiastic about the work done to her home through the COCAAN program, and enjoys pointing out the many improvements made.
   "This is a really great program, especially for seniors on a limited income. I couldn't have made these improvements on my own," Hylton said. "The people are so good to work with, and very professional. It has been a very enjoyable experience."
   To learn more about qualifying for COCAAN home repair loans call Dennis at 548-2380, ext. 109.