With winter just under way, local agencies are already seeing an uptick in residents looking for assistance in repairing old furnaces, paying off utility bills or even covering the rent.
Just halfway through its grant cycle, the city of Lawrence has spent more than it budgeted for emergency loans. Through annual federal grants, the city can provide no-interest loans of up to $5,000 for emergency home repairs and furnace replacements. The loans, which aren’t paid back until the house is sold or the owners move away, are used to eliminate any immediate threats to a homeowner’s health and safety.
So far this year, the city has made 17 emergency loans for furnace replacements, compared with six the year before. In all, the city has spent about $37,000 for emergency loans, which is $3,000 more than what was budgeted.
“I think a lot of it is the economy,” said Tony Hoch, a project specialist for the city.
The city program accepts homeowners who make 80 percent or less of the median income in Douglas County; that’s $55,600 for a family of four and $38,950 for a single person. Applicants must own and live in the home.
Hoch said the city can pull from other federal housing grant programs to cover the emergency loans if the demand continues to rise.
“We don’t anticipate any issues,” Hoch said. “It’s on a first-come, first-serve basis, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t ever met that point.”
Over at the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corporation, or ECKAN, coordinator Lillie Okwuone said there has been an increase in clients asking for assistance with their utility bills. So far most people have asked for help with keeping the electricity on, Okwuone said.
Okwuone, who usually assists about 30 clients a week, said she has seen between 10 to 20 new faces in the past few weeks.
“Winter has just started. We haven’t really seen the cold months yet. This is just the beginning,” she said.
Starting next week, applications will be accepted for assistance through Warm Hearts of Douglas County, a program that helps cover the heating bills of low-income residents.
In the meantime, Linda Lassen, program manager at Penn House, said the organization has seen a bump in the number of requests to help pay the rent.
Along with the unemployed, clients include people on Social Security disability benefits or who have part-time jobs and just can’t make ends meet.
“I think every month there are more and more,” Lassen said. “You know the economy, the way things are going it is really hard on people.”
Long before winter arrived, residents were already looking for help in cutting down their heating bills. This summer, demand for Lawrence’s weatherization program was “through the roof,” Hoch said.
The program, which is based on income eligibility, provides money for homeowners to better insulate their attic, put in storm windows and place weather-stripping around entryways.
“I think when things are tight, people are looking for any way they can to save a buck,” Hoch said.