Mayor details LR safety program

About 100 residents in seven neighborhoods in Little Rock will receive free home safety and energy inspections and minor repairs in the coming year through a new program created with federal grant money.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola announced the AmeriCorps Neighborhood Safety Corps outside the house of the program’s first beneficiary Friday morning.

There’s a chance the grant will be extended for two additional years, Stodola said. The goal is to work on at least 100 houses each year.

Single family homeowners in the Hope, Central High and Wright Avenue, Wakefield, Upper Baseline, Westbrook and West Heights Place, Brownwood Terrace, and Windamere neighborhoods who are considered to have a “low to moderate” income will be eligible to apply.

Anyone in the defined areas is eligible to receive safety inspections, no matter their income.

To receive energy efficiency upgrades or any rehabilitation work on the home through the program, the household income must be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

That means taking in $23,760 or less for a one-person household, $32,040 or less for a two-person household, $40,320 or less for a three-person household, $48,600 or less for a four-person household, and $56,880 or less for a five-person household.

[MAP: See Little Rock neighborhoods selected for Americorps program]

The city will take applications throughout the year. The initial households will be chosen from a list of people who have already applied for rehabilitation assistance through the city’s Department of Housing and Neighborhood Programs.

Those interested in applying can call the department at (501) 371-6825. If a resident does not own the house he lives in, the landlord will have to approve any work before it can be done.

The city has already hired 15 AmeriCorps crew members for this program and will hire 15 more. Ten of them are full time and are paid $12,630 for the 11 months they will spend working on the crew, and 20 are part-time and will be paid $6,315. Upon completing their service, they get a stipend to use at a post-secondary educational institution, including some technical schools, or to repay student loans.

Little Rock competed for and was selected to receive a $276,579 initial grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service to start the program. The city will spend $165,229 as a match in the first year. It is eligible to receive the grant for two more years if the first year goes well.

Residents selected through the program will get a home security check, which could include installing deadbolt locks, painting house numbers on curbs or trimming bushes. Crews also will retrofit the house with energy-efficient light bulbs, weather stripping and low-flow shower heads.

Residents may also be able to get limited rehabilitation work done, such as repairs to siding, porches or railings.

The AmeriCorps team is “going to be looking at our streetscapes, they’re going to be looking at bushes that need to be cut, houses that need to be painted, trash that’s on the street. They’re going to be looking at houses that need improvements, and they’re going to be making a transformation and a change in the lives of many, many people,” Stodola said.

He said the program is not only meant to revitalize neighborhoods but to help combat crime in targeted areas. The seven areas were chosen by the Little Rock Police Department. Officers selected single-family neighborhoods that have seen a higher than average number of burglaries.

“We know the police can’t do it all by themselves, and this is an excellent opportunity to reduce crime in Little Rock,” said Victor Turner, director of the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Department.

Assistant Police Chief Alice Faulk said the Police Department will work in the seven areas to help residents start neighborhood watch programs.

Turner said the city will work with people who apply for the program to see if they are also eligible for other federally funded housing rehabilitation programs.

Gregory Wilson, 57, is a recent beneficiary of one of those programs. The announcement of the Neighborhood Safety Corps program was made Friday outside his home on 18th Street.

Wilson will get the safety and energy inspections. He also requested that railings be installed on his front porch steps. He has cystic fibrosis and uses forearm crutches to walk.

He grinned while showing off the work the city had done to his home Friday. A drooping bedroom ceiling had been replaced and a large hole in his bedroom wall had been repaired with new sheet rock. He received a new bathtub, sink vanity, closet, toilet and heater in his bathroom and new flooring in his kitchen.

“It’s a blessing,” he said.

His neighbors around the corner on Wolfe Street watched from their front porch as the news conference that included U.S. Rep. French Hill took place.

A brick pillar holding up Lorre Cunningham’s porch is leaning and in bad need of repair. Cunningham, 56, wondered if she would qualify for the new program and if she could get the porch fixed. Its railings are also loose.

“This would be a great opportunity for anyone, especially if they need help with the finances. We need [repairs,] but we just can’t afford it,” said Cunningham, who lives at the home with her mother, Rose.

“My worst thought is what if a big storm, a hard wind comes in here? Our whole front porch is going to come down. My 87-year-old mother don’t need that,” Cunningham said. “We need all the help we can get, and I’m the only income coming in other than her Social Security. Paycheck to paycheck just don’t get it.”

Metro on 09/30/2017