An initial wave of 200 low-income seniors and Detroit homeowners with disabilities who applied for roof repairs under a $30 million city program should have renovations by the end of the year.
Heather Zygmontowicz, chief of special housing programs and strategic implementation for the City of Detroit, said Wednesday that 1,100 homeowners overall will be selected for roof repair and replacement in the first phase of the city’s “Renew Detroit” program. Zygmontowicz told a City Council committee that construction for the bulk of those homes – estimated around 900 – will get underway next year.
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Renew Detroit was the first initiative to receive an allocation of the city’s $826 million in federal pandemic aid. Most of the funding for Renew Detroit, or $20 million, will go toward roof repairs, with the remaining $10 million being set aside for 500 homeowners who need other kinds of major repairs through a second phase of the program that has yet to be publicly announced.
Zygmontowicz said the program’s second phase could also take advantage of additional ARPA funds provided to the state of Michigan.
“There’s way more need for home repair than we have been able to deliver in the City of Detroit,” Zygmontowicz said. “We knew we wanted to offer home repairs that are desperately needed, but also do it in a fashion where we are being efficient and starting to put up significantly more home repairs altogether.”
Zygmontowicz said the federal American Rescue Act dollars used to launch the initiative were essential because few programs exist to help Detroiters fix costly damaged roofs.
Roof repair and replacement, she added, are among the most commonly deferred projects for cite homeowners and left unaddressed, roof leaks can cause significant damage to other parts of the home.
“We know it’s easily the highest requested need that we hear at the city and it’s also one of the most important things to put on the home,” Zygmontowicz told the council committee on Wednesday. “If there is a problem with the roof failing, there are always problems inside the home.”
Demand for home repairs is high in Detroit. More than 244,000 calls were received by the Gilbert Family Foundation in the first month after announcing its own $20 million home repair fund in May. Gilbert Family Foundation officials have estimated home repair needs in Detroit could be as high as $4 billion.
An estimated 37,630 Detroit households live in “inadequate” conditions, according to an October report from the University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study. That might include a home with exposed wiring or electrical issues, a broken furnace or no running water.
Zygmontowicz said 2,400 applicants were deemed eligible for the city’s roof repair program, but it is not a first come, first served application process. Zygmontowicz said the eligibility criteria was crafted to ensure long time homeowners and seniors on waitlists have a better chance of receiving the repair funds.
“A lot of our other home repair programs are first in, first out, so as soon as you raise your hand and you end up on the list, you end up being served,” Zygmontowicz told the committee. “That’s really not speaking to a lot of the things we’re hearing consistently from the community.”
To qualify for Renew Detroit, residents had to be 62 or older or a homeowner of any age with a disability, approved for the Homeowner Property Exemption (HOPE) that waives a portion of property taxes for low-income homeowners and could not have received a city home repair grant of $10,000 or more in the past decade.
Zygmontowicz noted Wednesday that 1,200 homeowners were not selected because they scored too low on point-based eligibility criteria that considered the length of homeownership, level of property tax exemption, whether they were verified on a senior home repair waitlist, and roof condition. Others were deemed ineligible for other reasons.
Less than half of the 1,100 homes selected for the first phase of roof repairs have been visited by the city to assess the extent of damages. The city anticipates the remaining 600 homes will be assessed by the end of August, Zygmontowicz said.
The first four contracts worth about $3 million will be sent to the City Council before the panel’s recess at the end of July. Zygmontowicz said the next round of contracts is expected to be “much larger,” but the city has faced a tough market compounded by limited availability of contractors and escalating construction costs.
Labor shortages were an issue before COVID-19. Once the pandemic began contractors became even less available, she said.
“As interest rates absolutely plummeted, it became much more appealing and possible for homeowners to take out loans for construction of their homes. Contractors began becoming incredibly busy,” she said. “Then the final piece of that is as we’re getting into our third year of the pandemic our material and labor costs are absolutely skyrocketing.”
The city announced Detroit in September 2021 and the application period closed a month later after a series of community meetings. City staff called 1,800 people on a waiting list for the Senior Emergency Home Repair Program and mailed notices to 400 recently denied home repair applicants.
Zygmontowicz did not say how many total applications were received, but more than 4,800 Detroiters had applied in mid-October. City officials at the time estimated they could see as many as 10,000 applications.
Application reviews started last November and 1,100 eligible applicants were selected by the end of June. Now the city is working to complete home assessments to gauge the repair needs at each home, and 498 were completed as of June 30.
Construction is expected to begin in September and finish by fall 2024.
Council members serving on the Budget Finance and Audit subcommittee said Wednesday that some constituents who applied have expressed concerns about being unclear on their status.
Zygmontowicz said the city is working to keep applicants updated about whether they have been selected and when they can expect repairs to start.