Neighborhood hero: Cape home-repair program upgrades low-income housing

Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Brandi Lalumondiere, Wade May and dog Holly stand in the newly repaired living room of their home Tuesday on Henry Street in Cape Girardeau. The repairs to the home were made possible through a Missouri Housing Development Commission Hero grant. (Kristin Eberts)

The one-story house on Henry Street is small and nondescript, tucked away on a short side street near Jefferson School in Cape Girardeau.

Brandi Lalumondiere knew a few things about it when she bought it. It had only two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a small bath. Still, she thought, for a starter home, it would do.

"It's a little house," she said. "But it's good enough for us."

The 20-year old restaurant worker and college student also knew this -- it needed a lot of work.

The house was rife with plumbing problems and there were issues with the roof, the doors and windows and the air conditioning unit.

Yen Soo Hon of Mike Patrick Construction finishes painting a bedroom Tuesday at the home of Brandi Lalumondiere on Henry Street in Cape Girardeau. The repairs to the home were made possible through a Missouri Housing Development Commission Hero grant. (Kristin Eberts)

Lalumondiere also knew that -- as a service trainer at Steak ‘n Shake with mounting college bills -- she and her boyfriend would have to save up over time and fix the problems as their finances and schedule allowed.

Then she got a call from her sister. She had seen an ad in the newspaper notifying the public about a state program that would pay for up to $20,000 in home repairs for certain qualifying homeowners.

In March 2010, Lalumondiere was the third person to apply for that year's Home Repair Opportunity Program. She qualified quickly for what is commonly known as the Hero Program because she has a low-to-moderate income and needed only basic repairs.

For nearly a year, contractors worked on the home Lalumondiere also shares with her mother, boyfriend, two dogs and three cats. The workers tiled the roof. New storm doors and windows went in. They patched and painted. They installed new light fixtures, fixed the vents and corrected the plumbing issues.

On Tuesday, the work was winding down, with one worker finishing up some painting in one of the bedrooms. It was expected to be finished by the end of the day.

Work like that is going on all the time all across town. The city of Cape Girardeau has participated in the program since it began in 2003.

It was originally managed locally by the East Missouri Action Agency with cooperation with the city, said Steve Williams, the city's housing coordinator. But in 2007, when municipalities were allowed to apply, the city took the program over entirely, he said.

Since then, 25 Cape Girardeau applicants have qualified for nearly $500,000 from the program, which generally provides up to $20,000 each to enable low-income homeowners to make repairs to substandard housing. The home must also be owner-occupied, Williams said. Cities can apply for as much money as the community needs.

In November, the Cape Girardeau City Council applied for another $100,000 from the Missouri Housing Development Commission to make repairs to five more houses next year. In recent years, the repairs have happened on streets like North Frederick, South Spanish, South Hanover and North Ellis.

The program has provided a small boon to the economy, as well. According to a city report, the program has provided wages and material of about $419,930 to local contractors and suppliers.

"The program is important because we have a lot of folks who don't have the ability to do the basic things," Williams said. "The goal is to enhance the neighborhoods. That's what we're trying to do."

The program is funded out of the Missouri Housing Development Commission's federal Home Investment Partnership Program, or HOME, said commission spokeswoman Megan Word. Since metropolitan communities receive their own HOME funding, the commission created the Hero Program to serve those in rural areas who don't make much money, she said. For example, in Cape Girardeau, a family of four can make no more than $43,100 to qualify.

She pointed out that Hero does not provide money directly to the individual homeowners, but operates as a grant program. Applicants apply to municipalities or agencies that oversee the program. They in turn apply directly to the state.

Once applicants are approved, the city contracts the work to local construction companies.

The commission allocates between $4 million and $5 million each year across the state. Since the program's inception, she said, the program has helped make improvements to 1,345 homes that include accessibility items, weatherization, lead-risk reduction and rehabilitation such as what was done at Lalumondiere's home.

As Lalumondiere surveyed her newly remodeled home Tuesday, she was amazed. Holding her Yorkie, Holly, she said there is another reason to be grateful on Thanksgiving.

"There's just no way we ever would have had the money for this," Lalumondiere said. "They basically totally redid our house."


Pertinent address:

401 Independence, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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