ETCOG offers Alto residents rebuilding assistance

by Becky Whisenant Special Contributor

A capacity crowd filled the meeting room Monday, July 8, at Alto City Hall to hear about the possibility of applying for home replacement or repair assistance available from the East Texas Council of Governments (ETCOG).

Bettye Mitchell, director of the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) and the Home Disaster Program of ETCOG welcomed the more than 27 Alto residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed during one of the storms which devastated the area earlier this year. She explained the objective of the meeting was to reach out to eligible homeowners to offer financial assistance for remodeling or rebuilding.

Eligibility requirements are based on low income and the applicant must have a clear title to the home which was destroyed or damaged. The residence must be a single family dwelling.
Mitchell explained, “When you read the paperwork it says ‘loan’ but it is a forgivable loan. If you, or a member of your family, stays in the home 15 years, it automatically comes to you and you do not have to pay a thing. You would never have to make a payment. The houses have to meet standards and are nice homes even though they are not large houses. This is for individuals who have no other resources.”

Cost of the two to three bedroom replacement homes available through the program range from $85,000 to $94,000.
Al Pippins, program manager, explained this includes all the building or rebuilding cost and the major appliances.
Pippins discussed the paperwork in the packets given out to attendees. All information on required documentation is included in the packet along with an application and help line phone numbers.
He said, “These documents need to be back in the housing office within 30 days. It’s really simple.”
Proof of Social Security, bank statements, a deed, affidavit of marriage and photos of the damage are required.
Mitchell said, “We do our best to make sure that when you show interest in the program we walk through it with you hand in hand to show you how to do it and what we need. We have to have all of your paperwork. We don’t send anything to Austin without paperwork because it will be put on the bottom of the list and we are trying to move as quickly as we can to try to get houses built in East Texas.”
Home Program Eligibility contact Nellie Henry will review the documentation and contact applicants to provide missing paperwork. Pippins said, “Nellie is very good at working with clients and helping people get what they need.”

Insured homeowners who sustained damage but whose policy was not sufficient to repair or rebuild are eligible to apply. Mobile home owners who sustained damage may also apply but would be considered for replacement of a comparable mobile home. For people who do not meet the qualifications, low interest loans are available, which must be paid back.

Details on the variety of services offered by the AAA will be discussed at a public meeting in October. Services for East Texas seniors such as Meals on Wheels, transportation on the GoBus, caregiver support, benefits counseling and legal assistance are provided at no cost to elderly clients, particularly low-income minority individuals and individuals with limited-English proficiency.
ETCOG is a voluntary association of counties, cities and school districts within a 14 county region: Cherokee, Anderson, Smith, Henderson, Van Zandt, Gregg, Rusk, Panola, Harrison, Marion, Upshur, Wood, Rains and Camp counties. ETCOG assists local governments in planning for common needs. Grant money to fund the program was procured through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and will be dispersed to qualifying applicants on a first-come, first served basis.

Cherokee County residents who were unable to attend the meeting and who would like to apply may call (903) 218-6565 or (800) 442-8845, or they may email or see Packets will also be available within a few days at Alto City Hall.