Johnson County launches new home rehabilitation and emergency repair program

The county gave area partners Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity and East Central Iowa Council of Governments funding as part of the program.


Photo contributed by Edith Jones

Alejandro Rojas, News Reporter

Johnson County launched a new home rehabilitation and emergency repair program that includes the Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity and the East Central Iowa Council of Governments.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors passed contracts at its formal meeting on Feb. 3, and both organizations received grants as part of the program.

Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit that provides “affordable housing solutions” in several Iowa counties, including Johnson County. ECICOG is an intergovernmental, not-for-profit organization that offers services, including home repair, business loans, and transportation.

The organization received a $105,000 grant, and ECICOG received a $195,000 grant.

The grant money comes from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funding, with $600,000 allocated for emergency home repairs. ARPA is a financial relief package from the federal government aimed at helping communities recover from the pandemic.

The program officially began Feb. 1, and the contract runs on until June 30, 2024.

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Lynette Jacoby, social services director for Johnson County, said the purpose of the program is to assist low-income homeowners to afford repairs.

Jacoby said the median income in Johnson County is $43,600 for a two-person household, $38,150 for one person, and $54,500 for a four-person home. Individuals or families below these incomes would be eligible for the program.

“When folks are living paycheck to paycheck or they have a fixed income, they receive Social Security perhaps, oftentimes their budgets don’t allow them to take care of major repairs or minor repairs because they just don’t have the savings to be able to cover those expenses. So, the idea is to really help stabilize their housing situation,” she said.

This was backed up by Edith Jones, Helping Hands program manager for Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity, who said the funding would immediately be used for home repairs.

“We will use those funds specifically to complete emergency repairs, major appliance replacements, aging in place modification, critical home repairs, and some accessibility modification,” Jones said.

One caveat is the homes need to be owned and lived in by the homeowner to be eligible and must be in Johnson County.

Jones said under the program, homes would not only receive essential repairs but could also be modified to add accessibility through improvements like ramps, grab bars, and accessible showers for seniors so they can age in place.

“That would be older adults that would like to remain in their homes or not be forced to a retirement place, [or] people that have been in the hospital and have had injuries and can’t necessarily go home because maybe they’re wheelchair bound and don’t have access to that,” Jones said.

Tracey Achenbach, housing director at ECICOG, said Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity and ECICOG would work together to best serve residents.

“We’ve worked with Habitat before on other stuff where we may refer people to them, or they may refer people to us,” Achenbach said. “What I envision happening is if we have a homeowner who really only needs an emergency type need and they’re an extremely low-income person, we would probably refer them to Habitat.”

The rehabilitation program is new to Johnson County, although other programs do exist in the area. Jacoby said Iowa City has its own program, and Habitat for Humanity and ECICOG have been doing this work for years and have received money from the federal government.

Jacoby said because Iowa City has its own program, the city would not be eligible for this program. As a result, Habitat for Humanity and ECICOG will serve every other part of the county, including unincorporated areas.

The county created the program after noticing it wasn’t investing more in home rehabilitation programs.

“We’ve done it on a very small scale, providing some seed money to Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity in prior years, but just at a very minimal amount, and it was emergency grant funding,” Jacoby said. “This was really intentional because this has been identified as a gap for our rural neighbors here in Johnson County.”

Even though the program is new, Jones said the county has previously worked with Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity.

“We’ve had a relationship since the inception of Helping Hands in 2017 and onward.,” Jones said. “Other than providing funding, they’ve also acted as a liaison between other social service programs and our organization, providing referrals and connecting those in need to our programs when applicable.”

As for the county, Jacoby said the new program was an important one.

“People have to sometimes make difficult choices about scaling back prescriptions or eating less in order to make a repair,” Jacoby said. “Sometimes we take for granted some of those simple things in our life that we can easily remedy. But for a lot of folks, they just don’t have the financial capacity to make those emergency repairs to their home.”