Program grants a handy hand to homeowners

Bob Barr cuts a board at the home of Wes Storni,90, as part of a grant for home improvements to low-income residents. photo Jayson Mellom 3-17-10
Bob Barr cuts a board at the home of Wes Storni,90, as part of a grant for home improvements to low-income residents. photo Jayson Mellom 3-17-10 The Tribune

Longtime Pismo Beach resident Wes Storni sat in his armchair recently and smiled as two much younger men moved around his mobile home, working to replace his shower and make other repairs.

In the past few weeks, they’ve replaced the carpet on the stairs leading up to the 20-year-old home and applied a rubberized paint to coat and seal the roof.

They’ve also added two smoke detectors, replaced the kitchen sink and garbage disposal, screwed in new light bulbs and given Storni a new fire extinguisher, said Paul Trent, who works for the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, which administers a program for Pismo Beach that pays for home repairs for low-income homeowners.

The home repairs are things that Storni — who will be 91 this May — most likely would not do himself.

“I just sat here and looked at all these things and couldn’t pick out the first thing to get started,” he said.

The repairs were done for Storni at no cost to him through Pismo Beach’s home improvement program, which provides up to $15,000 grants for repairs to single-family or mobile homes for low- or very low-income city homeowners.

Grover Beach has just started a similar program, which instead of grants offers zero or low-interest loans of up to $15,000 to residents who qualify.

Both cities pay for the programs through their redevelopment agencies, which are required to set aside at least 20 percent of their money for low- and moderate-income housing.

Grover Beach has allocated $150,000 to its program, which the Community Action Partnership — formerly the Economic Opportunity Commission of San Luis Obispo County — also administers.

Pismo Beach, which started its program in 2008, has spent $852,000 so far; another $336,000 has been budgeted within the 2009-10 fiscal year but not yet spent, said Finance Director George Edes.

Community Action Partnership employees review and approve applications and then send employees to assess the homes and complete minor home repairs.

The work includes repairing defective structural and plumbing systems, weather-proofing leaky roofs, doors or windows, fixing inoperative heating or air conditioning systems, installing smoke detectors and securing water heaters.

So far in Pismo Beach, 120 homeowners have enrolled in the program and about 104 projects have been completed, said Jim McNamara, director of energy services for the Community Action Partnership. About 90 percent of the recipients are older than age 60.

Many of the repairs have been made at mobile homes in the parks off Highway 1 or Five Cities Drive, near Prime Outlets in Pismo Beach.

“A lot of deserving people were helped by the program,” said Jim Keene, manager of the Hacienda Del Pismo Mobile Estates on Five Cities Drive.

He said he noticed repairs while driving around the park, including the replacement of rotting decks and leaking roofs.

The Pismo Beach City Council on April 6 will discuss the program’s funding and discuss ways to keep the program going.

“As a councilmember, I feel like we’ve put the money to good use,” said Pismo Beach Councilwoman Shelly Higginbotham, adding that it has prevented people from living in “horrible” conditions.