As Charletta Robinson tried to finish her doctorate in social work last year, it began to rain in her dining room.
She had no money to make repairs, but at first the leak was small. Soon, however, her roof was sprouting holes all over the place.
“It was very stressful. I’m trying to figure out how to take care of this without the water damage spreading,” she said.
She stretched a tarp across her attic floor, but still the damage spread.
“My chimney was deteriorating at a rapid pace,” she said, and every time it rained, she could hear the water trickling into her attic.
In desperation, she dialed 411. To her surprise, it worked; an operator connected her to Community Land Trust, which runs a home repair program. She was eligible for a federal grant, and this spring, contractors showed up to fix the roof. For the first time in months, she wasn’t worried when it rained.
“It felt very liberating,” she said.
The grant also requires the Community Land Trust to fix all code violations. It’s an awkward requirement because in many cases, homeowners don’t even know there are violations, said Bev Burnett, executive director of the group.
Robinson was sleeping in a basement “bedroom suite” with a master bedroom and bathroom — but no windows large enough to climb out of if there was a fire. That’s a major safety hazard. Doors can often be blocked by a fire, so bedrooms must also have an escape window.
Robinson hadn’t given any thought to the possibility of a fire until inspectors found the problem. Contractors turned one of her tiny windows into a large one, letting in sun as well as potentially saving a life.
“They gave me an awesome egress window in my bedroom,” Robinson said. “I definitely felt safe there. That was the best feeling of the whole project, that window.”
The Repair Assistance Program is fixing 16 houses this year, which will use up the entire grant.
“Now the pressure is on the city to get us more money,” Burnett said.
She held a news conference to highlight the program because it’s mostly invisible.
“A lot of the houses chosen for the program don’t have a lot of exterior problems, so it’s hard to see,” she said.
But the repairs stabilize houses that would otherwise fall apart quickly. Structural problems and leaking roofs are the most common problems.
City officials are trying to get more money for the program now, calling it a “highly successful” way to help elderly, poor and new homeowners deal with major repairs. It’s yet another way homeownership is made easy in Schenectady, said Mayor Gary McCarthy, using the city’s marketing motto.
“There’s something for everybody,” he said.
The city will hold its third annual Homeownership Fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at City Hall, with 25 vendors to offer help with securing mortgages, finding houses and other parts of the home-buying process.
The monthly citywide open house will follow from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at locations posted on the city website, www.CityOfSchenectady.com.
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