Former federal funds getting new life in Valpo

2013-08-12T20:49:00Z 2013-08-12T21:05:08Z Former federal funds getting new life in ValpoBy Phil Wieland, (219) 548-4352

VALPARAISO | A federal program designed to help renovate rental properties more than 25 years ago is about to have a new life helping the city renovate the facades of downtown buildings.

The Valparaiso City Council approved a resolution Monday to "repurpose and rename" the rental rehabilitation fund as the facade improvement fund in the city budget. The council also introduced an ordinance, which is expected to be approved at its Aug. 26 meeting, allocating $200,154 into the new fund.

Clerk-Treasurer Sharon Swihart said the city received a grant from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department in 1987, which the council decided to use to rehabilitate rental properties. Originally proposed to be used for grants, the council decided to create no-interest loans with the money.

Swihart said the original federal grant was about the $200,000 now in the account. It was loaned out and repaid an unknown number of times. It was ruled that, once the money had been loaned out and come back to the city through the repayments, it was the city's money.

The loan program ended in the early 1990s and the money has been dormant in the bank since then. The city now plans to use it to provide forgivable loans for facade improvements to bolster the program that has proven so popular, the city has a hard time keeping up with the demand.

"The money is not enough for any new endeavors," Mayor Jon Costas said of the HUD grant. "So, why not put it into something popular and working well. It's a great idea and use of funds."

The downtown facade grant program provides a 50-50 match up to a maximum of $25,000. The program has been funded with money from the city's share of the county economic development income tax, and City Administrator Bill Oeding said it has gone a long way toward helping people improve their buildings.

The council recently had a request for up to $75,000 for three sides of a building at the corner of Indiana Avenue and Michigan Avenue. Although supported by the city's Plan Commission and the council, the city didn't have enough in the grant program to fund it all this year.

The council promised the developer it would give consideration to fully funding it if the plan to repurpose the federal grant could be worked out. Costas said the funds will be allocated the same way the existing EDIT program has been handled.

"This comes at a good time when we have a lot of projects coming in," he said.

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