published Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Rural renovations

Carrie Voorhees is in desperate need of home repair.

The 55-year old, who can’t work because she is blind and limited to a wheelchair, is living without heat or air conditioning.

She struggles to get in and out of her double-wide trailer without a wheelchair ramp and worries that her roof may give in from water damage.

“I bake back here in my bedroom,” said Ms. Voorhees, of Tracy City, Tenn. “It is hard. We don’t have money to fix anything.”

Yet Ms. Voorhees, like many struggling to make home repairs in Southeast Tennessee, hopes to find assistance in the coming months from federal grant money provided to low-income home owners.

Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it may award up to $10 million in competitive grants for poor, rural residents in need of home maintenance.

“Housing is a cornerstone of any thriving, stable community,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “It is more important than ever to make certain their homes are safe, energy efficient, livable dwellings.”

The Housing Preservation Grants will be given to municipalities, public agencies and nonprofit organizations to disperse to residents. As funding has become available, several nonprofit agencies in Southeast Tennessee are looking to apply for the grants, according to officials at the USDA.

Mountain Tennessee Outreach Project, a ministry of the United Methodist Church in Altamont, Tenn., plans to apply for a USDA grant, said Julie Duncan, program manager at Mountain T.O.P.

Mountain T.O.P., which helps poor Southeast Tennessee residents with building improvements, received $60,000 two years ago from the USDA and helped more than 10 families with desperately needed home repairs, Ms. Duncan said.

The organization helps families purchase required materials and offers free, volunteer labor for the installation or construction, she said.

“A lot of families can’t afford building material or labor,” Ms. Duncan said. “Folks are living in trailers and century-old homes.”

Carrie Voorhees will be one of many people applying for a USDA grant through Mountain T.O.P., Ms. Duncan said.

Most people will be asking for financial support to get their roofs repaired, fix water damage or weatherize their homes. Mobile homes in the area require a lot of attention, she said.

“People are working hard, and we are trying to improve their living conditions,” Ms. Duncan said.

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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