By Kevin Kelley
A homeowner whose house is at least 50 years old can now apply for low-interest loans to make repairs or improvements.
In June, Westlake City Council unanimously approved legislation allowing the city to participate in the Cleveland Restoration Society’s Heritage Home Loan program. Municipalities pay a fee, based on the number and value of houses in the city, to join the program. In Westlake’s case, the fee was $6,600. In return, homeowners of structures more than 50 years old can apply for 2-percent loans from KeyBank. Regardless of whether they apply for loans, homeowners in participating cities can obtain free technical assistance on home repairs from the organization.
Tom Jorgensen, the Cleveland Restoration Society’s chief operation officer, said the organization sent invitations to join the program to all Cuyahoga County communities in April.
The loan program benefits municipalities by helping homeowners maintain the housing stock, Jorgensen said.
“They revitalize neighborhoods,” he said of communities that have joined the program.
Since 1992, the program has revitalized more than 930 houses with projects totaling $33 million in neighborhood reinvestment, program officials report.
Jorgensen acknowledged that Westlake does not have the degree of housing stock issues that Cleveland has following the foreclosure crisis of recent years. But the city does have some aging homes, he said.
Typical repairs funded through the program involve roof or window replacements, Jorgensen said. Kitchen and bath renovations, as well as additions, are common improvements undertaken by homeowners, he added. Commonly given technical assistance consists of advice on what materials to use or what colors will work best in a project.
The maximum loan a homeowner can receive is $200,000. The aggregate amount KeyBank will loan out in the program is $10 million a year, Jorgensen said, a dollar level that has not been reached in recent years.
Roughly 50 percent of loans are approved, Jorgensen said. Inner-city and low-value properties have a lower approval rate, he said, adding that the percentage of approvals in Westlake will likely be much higher. The approval rate has gone down with the economic recession and credit crunch of recent years, he said.
While the program imposes certain historical preservation restrictions on projects, Jorgensen describes them as “fairly minimal.”
“(Homeowners) just cannot do harm to the original structure,” he explained. Projects inconsistent with the original architecture of a house, such as replacing wood siding with aluminum siding, are also not permitted, he said.
Homes do not have to be historical in nature to qualify, Jorgensen said.
“We’re not trying to turn a house into a museum,” he said.
Mayor Dennis Clough said the program will be helpful to Westlake homeowners.
“It’s another tool where people can upgrade their homes with a lower interest rate,” the mayor said.
Clough noted that homeowners can also take advantage of the Home Enhancement Loan Program (HELP), through which repairs or remodeling projects can be funded with loans 3 percentage points below a bank’s market rate for home improvement loans. Administered by Cuyahoga County, HELP places no restrictions on a borrower’s income and few limitations on what improvements can be made. Both owner-occupied and investment properties are eligible for the loans, which must be approved and issued by one of five participating banks.
For more information about the Heritage Home Loan program, visit http://www.heritagehomeprogram.org, or call 216-426-3116. To find out about the Home Enhancement Loan Program, visit the county’s Department of Development website at http://development.cuyahogacounty.us/en-US/housing-development.aspx.