Piscataquis County gets housing grants

Posted May 21, 2009, at 10:18 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:18 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Piscataquis County towns received $500,000 of the $1.45 million awarded by the state this month in Community Development Block Grants for housing rehabilitation.

In addition to the two $250,000 grants awarded in Piscataquis County, the Department of Economic and Community Development also this month awarded two $250,000 grants in the Lincoln and Greenbush areas of Penobscot County, a $250,000 grant in Kennebec County and a $200,000 grant in Oxford County, according to Deborah Johnson, development program manager with the department. The funds are provided through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“It is a very significant award and it will allow us to make a pretty good impact on the needs in these [Piscataquis County] communities,” Ron Harriman of Ron Harriman Associates, a Bangor consulting firm, said Thursday. Harriman authored and will administer the grants for the towns of Brownville and Monson.

Having worked in community development housing programs throughout the state for 25 years, Harriman said he could say without hesitation that Piscataquis County’s housing stock is the worst. “We won’t have any trouble spending” the grant funds, he said.

The Brownville region — which includes Milo, LaGrange, Medford and the Unorganized Territory communities of Barnard, Williamsburg and Orneville — has received several housing grants over the years, according to Harriman. About 100 families indicated they could use help through the latest grant to address life safety and energy efficiency problems, he noted.

Brownville Town Manager Sophia Wilson was pleased the application was funded. She said Thursday she hoped work on the homes selected in the Brownville-area communities could begin late this summer or early fall. A special town meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 24, to accept the grant. The place of the meeting will be announced later.

In Monson’s grant application, which includes the Unorganized Territory communities of Blanchard and Elliotsville, more than 70 families were identified in need of housing improvements.

“There is a great need,” Monson Town Manager Julie Anderson said Thursday. A special town meeting will be held in early June to act on the grant funds, she said.

Harriman said he has seen the gamut of housing problems in the two regions.

“I’ve seen collapsed walls, I’ve seen basements full of raw sewage. You name it and I have encountered it,” Harriman said. The needs are overwhelming, he added.

When he describes the situations he has encountered to others, the reaction he usually receives is that those things don’t exist. But they do, he said. “I see them on a regular basis, people living in situations that are really just not habitable.” It can be an older mobile home that is ready to collapse to a handicapped resident who is housebound because there is no ramp to the home, he said.

The vast majority of people who receive assistance through such grant programs often don’t have much education, or they have disabilities and for whatever reason may be unemployable, Harriman said.

“I can say unequivocally the vast majority of people that I visit through these programs have genuine needs and they are deserving,” Harriman said. A committee consisting of residents from each of the communities identified in the grants help prioritize the projects, he added.

Families that may need housing assistance in these two regions can fill out an application obtained at their town offices, or for information on the income-eligible grants, they can call Harriman at 800-648-8335.

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