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It's home repair time again and help is out there for cash-strapped homeowners with leaky roofs or peeling paint to scrape off and paint over. 

Federal loans at low rates and even grant dollars are available to homeowners who meet certain income guidelines.

A family of four with a total 2017 household income of $57,900 qualifies for a low-interest loan of 2.5 percent in the West Allis home repair program. Lower-income families qualify for lower interest rates.

Similarly, a Greenfield family of four with a 2016 household income of $56,150 qualifies for a no-interest loan under the Milwaukee County program. That program covers all Milwaukee County communities except West Allis and Milwaukee, which each have their own programs. Grants are also offered for those with disabilities needing ramps, lifts or bathroom modifications.

Loan programs in both communities address the lead paint issue as part of the loan application.

Forgivable loans

However, only improvements that disturb lead paint would require a certified contractor to handle them, under the relatively new West Allis forgivable loan program for low-income families. A family of four could make up to $36,200 to qualify for a forgivable loan, if the family lives in the target area, said Robert Ahlm, rehabilitation specialist who administers the West Allis home repair program.

However, the owner must stay in the home for either five years or 10 years, depending on the size of the loan. For loans up to $14,999, 20 percent is forgiven for each of five years. For loans up to $20,000, portions of the loan are forgiven each of 10 years.

However, if the homeowner moves, whatever is still owed on the loan must then be paid, Ahlm said.

West Allis started the forgivable loans only a few months ago, Ahlm said. The area around the Wisconsin State Fair is the target forgivable loan area, he said. It was chosen mainly because of the number of residents who are retired and can't afford to keep up their homes, he said.

Although the program is new, homeowners have received loans for all kinds of things such as roofs, gutters, porch repairs and siding, Ahlm said.

Fight blight

The idea behind the Department of Housing and Urban Development loan and grant programs in West Allis and Milwaukee County is to keep property values from falling, Ahlm said. That is a clear risk for homeowners who live next to people unable to keep up with home repairs. They can suffer financially when they sell their homes, he said.

"Who's going to want to move in next door to a house that's falling apart?" he said. "The homeowner who is selling is losing money because the homes around them are decaying."

Cities can go to court to try to force code compliance, but that takes two or three years, Ahlm said. Meanwhile, neighbors and entire neighborhoods are suffering and frustrated, he said. Court action also might force foreclosure that also can result in property values taking a hit, he said.

The home repair programs are not for rental properties in either community, although they both cover duplexes. However, the West Allis program covers up to three units, as long as tenants as well as owners meet the income guidelines, Ahlm said.

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