This is Elgin's third and most likely final call this year for owners of historic homes who want the city's help to restore the exterior of their homes.
Twelve homeowners last week were given the OK to receive historic architectural rehabilitation grants at the city council's committee of the whole. It was the second round of grant requests this year.
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If the city council approves those projects, there will still be grant money available in the 2013 budget: $102,000 for the 75/25 program, which reimburses low- to moderate-income homeowners for 75 percent of a project's cost, and about $20,000 for the 50/50 program, which reimburses homeowners for 50 percent of the cost.
Each program was allocated $150,000 this year, all from the city's share of casino money. Projects must be a minimum $2,500 for the 75/25 grants and $5,000 for the 50/50 grants. Maximum reimbursement for each project is $20,000.
Last year the program was put on hiatus, and this year it kicked in in February, which was later than usual, said Amy Munro, Elgin's historic preservation and grants planner. The city is looking into ways to better publicize the program, she added.
Resident Dan Miller, who received a grant a couple of years ago, said the rules should be changed to allow homeowners who are also contractors to get reimbursed for their labor.
Currently, homeowners get reimbursed only for materials; if they hire a contractor, they can be reimbursed for labor costs, too. Miller said the change would be an incentive for "home flippers" who buy, restore and sell historic properties.
"If they knew they could get reimbursed for their own work, they would be even more motivated to come in," he said.
City council members did not discuss Miller's proposal last week. City staff members recommended no change to the current rules, Munro said.
Under the rules, homeowners submit two contractors' bids for the project, and the city picks the lowest amount for the grant. If homeowners who are contractors submitted their own bid along with a second, they would want to seek the highest possible bid to maximize their own labor reimbursement, Munro said.
But homeowners already are likely to present the highest bids to the city, because that means possibly getting more work done if one can find ways to save once the grant is awarded, Miller said.
City staff also pointed out that general contractors don't require a license in Elgin, only specialty trades like electrical, plumbing and more, so any homeowner could claim to be a contractor.
Councilman Toby Shaw said he was "on the fence" about Miller's request, but decided against it.
Paying homeowners to work on their own homes would be "odd," Shaw said. "Putting your own equity in your own home is kind of an expectation," he said.
Also, a change could create difficult situations, such as if a homeowner performs a job deemed subpar by the city's code enforcement department, Shaw said.
Heritage Commission Chairman Bill Briska said a rule change would require a thorough legal review of the grant process. He asked the city attorney's office to assist with that. "There are merits to both points of view," he said.
Miller said his intent is only to improve what is already a great program. "Overall I am very, very, very positive about the program. It has helped me and it has helped the neighborhood," he said.
The deadline to apply for the grants is Sept. 6. Fore more information contact Munro at firstname.lastname@example.org or (847) 931-6004.