The United States Department of Agricul-ture’s Rural Development can provide assistance for qualified individuals needing improvements or weatherization for their homes.

“USDA Rural Development may be able to help you if you are in need of repairs, improvement, modernization, or removal of health and safety hazards,” Rick Rice, state director, said.

Rural Development, which was formerly called the Farmers Home Administration, has been offering the Section 504 Loan and Grant programs for some time, said Penny Thaxton, single-family housing specialist.

“Mainly, it’s a good program because it helps and enables people to live in their homes safely and (live) healthy lives,” she said. “That’s the objective of the whole program.”

These programs are for people with very low incomes who live in rural areas. People who reside in some of the bigger cities within West Virginia are not eligible to obtain this financial assistance, Thaxton said.

To obtain a loan or grant, individuals must have some type of ownership in the property they want to get repaired, which means they can’t be renters, she said.

Thaxton said the 504 Grant program, designated for people 62 and older, must be used to remove a safety or health issue on the property. The grants are for people who are unable to repay any part of the assistance. Recipients aren’t supposed to sell their homes within three years, she said.

The grants used to be limited to $5,000, but that amount was bumped up to $7,500 about 10 years ago, Thaxton said.

The loans, which don’t have an age stipulation, have a 1 percent fixed interest rate and can be repaid in one to 20 years. A homeowner can receive funding of up to $20,000 for general repairs.

“It’s very friendly as far as the payments,” Thaxton said. “That’s a program that you just can’t beat.”

She said applying for a Section 504 Loan or Grant is very simple. USDA Rural Development normally tries to travel to a person’s home to help them fill out the forms, although this on-site service is not available in some areas. Rural Development does not charge any fees for this assistance, she said.

For more information, call USDA Rural Development in West Virginia at 1-800-295-8228 or visit www.rurdev.usda.gov.

E-mail Jessica Legge at jlegge@timeswv.com.

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