02/01/09 — MERCI Center to help low-income families with housing repairs

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MERCI Center to help low-income families with housing repairs

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 1, 2009 2:00 AM

The MERCI Center in Rosewood is looking for homeowners who need emergency repairs so they can stay in their houses, and for contractors who can help.

The organization, originally called the Marion Edwards Recovery Center Initiatives after the United Methodist bishop who started the disaster recovery effort, now also does mission support and affordable housing work.

And thanks to a contract the center landed with the North Carolina Housing Finance Administration, Wayne County homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes because of serious repair issues can now remain in them.

The MERCI program director, Rev. Jim Huskins, said the contract allows the center to spend up to $5,000 on each of 15 houses. The work has to be essential to the homeowner's ability to stay in their residence.

The work that would qualify include things like the heating and air-conditioning systems, roof repairs, electrical and plumbing work and flooring if there is a threat that someone might fall through a hole in the floor.

For people with physical disabilities, the work also could include things like ramps, widened doors and handicap-accessible bathrooms.

"A house destroyed by poverty is just as destroyed as one struck by disaster," Huskins said.

To qualify for the repair work, which will be done by volunteers and licensed contractors, the homeowner's income has to be under 30 percent of the median income in Wayne County.

For example, a single-person household could not have more than $10,000 annual income. A two-person household would have to make under $11,550.

Ann Huffman, who takes the applications for the work, said most of the repair work is for elderly, disabled, single parents and large families. But she said those who doubt that they would qualify still should call her just in case.

The money has to be spent by the end of 2009, or the center will have to return it to the state. The money comes from the federal government, but the state administers the program.

People should call Huffman at 739-9167 to determine their eligibility.

Contractors interested in being put on the bid list should call the same number and ask for Dondi Byrd. Contractors must be fully insured and possess those licenses required by the state.