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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Jevin Jensen, chairman of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, said the grant would be ideal for low-income residents or seniors who may be on a fixed income.

Whitfield County is seeking a $400,000 housing grant that would allow local residents who are short on cash to rehab homes that are in disrepair.

The county Board of Commissioners voted unanimously during its meeting Tuesday evening to apply for the $400,000 Community Home Investment Program grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

According to the department's website, the grant can be used to provide "safe, decent and affordable housing" in Georgia communities by providing funds that help local governments, public housing authorities and nonprofit organizations to "rehabilitate owner-occupied homes, and build and renovate affordable single-family homes for sale to eligible homebuyers."

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Board chair Jevin Jensen said the county was forced to demolish 19 " totally abandoned, totally dangerous and unsafe" homes within the past year. He said the homes were bringing down the property values of other homes in the area and that, in the long term, the grant would prevent homes from causing similar issues in the future.

Jensen said the grant would be useful for low-income residents, new families or seniors who may be living on fixed incomes. Some example projects the funds could be used for include repairing roofs, plumbing repairs or fixing up unsafe decks.

The program does not provide direct assistance to individual homeowners or homebuyers. Instead, those who need financial assistance to complete home repairs will have to apply with Whitfield County and receive approval for their projects. Upon approval, the funds will be awarded as a zero interest loan.

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"We want to make sure we maintain our homes regardless of income level or age or ability, so you can apply for one of these zero interest loans if we win the grant, and then, if you stay in the home for five years, the loan is totally forgiven," Jensen said Tuesday.

The commissioners also voted unanimously to accept a bid from Rhonda Gilbert of Gilbert + Associates in Lawrenceville, Georgia, to write the grant application and administer the grant if the county is selected to receive it.

Gilbert would receive $3,500 to write the grant, according to documents in the agenda packet for Tuesday's meeting, and $6,000 to administer the grant. The funds would come from the more than $20 million Whitfield County is receiving through the American Rescue Plan.

"There are only seven counties that can win this grant in the state of Georgia, so we want to put our best foot forward to try and win, and we need an expert to help us apply and administer it," Jensen said.

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Moving forward, he said hopes county officials can learn from their work with Gilbert on this grant so that future applications may be completed in-house.

Contact Kelcey Caulder at 423-757-6327 or kcaulder@timesfreepress.com.

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