Can't Afford Housing Repairs

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Need Home Improvements

My husband and I own a one-bedroom house that we bought a year ago. We have two children, ages 8 and 12. We have added on two rooms, but we have run out of money, so they are not finished. Plus, we need to make a few repairs. Because of all the rain, our basement keeps flooding.

I went to a place to see about a home equity loan, but because we are low income, I was told that we would not qualify. Is there any place where we can go to get help? Do we need to refinance? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Useful Tips Shared

After remodeling a 1920s house on a very limited income, I have a few tips that you may be able to use.

If there is new home construction going on in your area, ask around to see if the builders have any leftovers. Sometimes you can get bits and pieces of sheet rock, linoleum, tiles, etc. The builders usually just toss the leftovers in a dumpster, as they don't have enough of the items to complete another house or it's not what was ordered for the next home they are working on.

We got three recessed lighting units, copper tubing for the bathroom, and an 8 by 12 foot piece of linoleum that was large enough for our small utility room. We also got some four-foot pieces of sheet rock that was enough to complete one wall in a bedroom we were redoing.

Also, sometimes you can get gently used carpeting from a company that lays carpet. When they lay new carpet, they have to remove the old stuff, and sometimes these companies will give the old carpeting away. You may have to purchase padding. Just know that you may need to clean the carpet once you have it put down.

Check to see if there is a salvage store in your area. Many times, you'll find great deals. We purchased tile for the floor and the walls around the shower in our bathroom for only $40. This included the tile cement and grouting.

Also, check into Freecycle at Go there and see if they have a group in your area. People give away just about anything. So far, I have found cabinetry, interior and exterior doors, bookcases, shelving, tools, cars, etc. All free for the asking. It may take a while, but I am sure you will find some cost-effective solutions for your home improvement dilemma.
C. in Alabama

Contact Local Programs

You can contact your local Commission on Economic Opportunity or Community Development Program. Both assist in helping with home repairs for low-income families. You can find both in the blue pages of the phone book.

Search Out Grants and Loans

Check with your state, county or local municipality for grants or loans. My city has a program that allows income-approved residents to obtain very low percent loans to have home improvements done by local approved contractors. Local folks who are vetted by the city get the business, at a fair rate, and local property is kept up and at full, fair value on the city tax rolls. The city also had a deal with a local paint store for a certain amount of free paint per approved household. One co-worker painted her house and several interior rooms and had replacement windows put in, all for a very low cost.

Visit Local Habitat for Humanity Office

Do you have a "Habitat for Humanity" office near you? My son recently did his Eagle Scout project for them, and I noticed that they maintain a "store" full of used or sometimes new home repair supplies for dirt-cheap. You usually have to go on the one or two days they're open and rummage, but you can get a lot of stuff there. The volunteers that run Habitat are also a wealth of information for how to get supplies and help if you're low-income.
Patty J.

Freecycle May Help

Recently, I gave away a truck load of leftover building supplies and interior/exterior house paint that was left from our two-year home/office renovation project. These materials otherwise would've ended up in the landfill. How did I do it? I went to Freecycle ( and posted an announcement saying I was giving it away. The materials went to a young couple who really needed them to fix up their house.

Freecycle is your community's 24-hour online yard sale. It's a non-profit grassroots movement of people who are giving (and getting) all sorts of items for free in their own town. More than 5,119 communities around the world are actively participating. Just go to the website and sign up by finding your community in the search box.

You can post a "wanted" ad there, requesting the types of building materials for which you are looking. Any sort of item can be given away or traded (except pets, firearms, porn, or perishable food), and there must be no strings attached to the giveaway. Also, if someone posts an item that you're interested in, you must reply directly, not to the entire mailing list. Freecycle is a win-win for everyone!

Loan Through USDA-Rural Housing Service

My husband and I got a loan through the USDA-Rural Housing Service. It was a 20-year, one-percent loan. You have to jump through a few hoops, but it is well worth it. There is a limit of $20,000, but when you get a few thousand paid, you can run it back up again. We had a basement built with the first loan, and then went back and got our roof replaced. There are also block grants. If you qualify, you can get a few thousand dollars worth of repairs done free.

Apply for Heating Assistance

If you are truly low income, and your state has this benefit, apply for heating assistance! When I did and received it, they also came and put a sump pump in the crawl space, insulated the ceiling, weather-proofed the windows and door and wrapped the water heater. Even though heating assistance is on a sliding scale, and it will be proportional to your family's income, the long-term benefits of these improvements lasts well beyond the actual dollars they invest toward your heating and cooling. Ask your local public assistance office if any comparable program exists in your state.
Jamie from Alaska

Updated October 2013

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