After you've waited month-in some cases years-to hear from the D.C. housing department that your application for a low-interest, long-term rehabilitation loan has been approved, your troubles still may not be over, a number of borrowers report.
The money to do the work can be slow in coming, contractors selected sometimes run out of funds before a project is completed and some of the city housing staff is not always helpful, according to those interviewed.
One borrower said he got so frustrated over staff slowness in processing papers that he took two days off work, went to the housing department's loan and grant office at 1711 14th st. NW. and typed up the necessary forms himself.
Another woman, who received a low-interest loan from community development funds, recalls vividly the day she drove to the same building and stood in the office and screeamed, literally screamed in outrage at how slowly her R Street home was being fixed up.
"There was just no calming me dowm," she said. "I had gone to my wit's end, running back and forth up there."
"It's a very difficult process for anyone who is not well-educated to go through," said one participant in the federal Section 312 loan program who asked not to be identified. "It's even a difficult process for someone who is well-educated to go through."
She and a partner were approved for a $90,000. 3 percent interest loan. After closing on the loan and getting a contractor, she was told rehabilitation would be finished by last September. In fact inflation has driven up the cost of the rehabilitation and she probably will have to borrow other funds to complete the work.
Tom Coumaris, an attorney with a U.S. agency, has about an hour's worth of problems to relate concerning his effort to get a low-interest loan to fix up his R Street NW home. He recalled that he was told the city housing department would put together plans for work to be done on his house.
Coumaris said he called the office often and repreatedly was told they were "just about finished with their work. "Seven months later, I discovered they hadn't even started on the plans," he said. "One person in their office even told me they didn't do plans." Coumaris said he be finally just drew up preliminary sketches himself.
A study of the city's rehabilitation loan programs by mayor-elect Marion Barry's housing task force found many problems. Contractors were paid without adequate inspection, and HUD staffers said they considered the program ineffective, according to Marie C. Barksdale, one of the chairpersons of the task force.
"The number of loans granted is far too low. We're not utilizing the funds we could get." Barksdale said."We could get more money to rehab vacant housing if we had an aggressive department."
Abraham Greenstein, deputy administrator of the city's Neighborhood Improvement Administration, acknowledged that the city gets "some complaints" about its handling of the 312 loan program. But "each negative situation tends to outweigh a lot of good cases where rehab is completed satisfactorily and in a timely way," said Greenstein. Some of the problems are due to a lack of staff, he added.
Greenstein said delays are "built in" to the process because there are so many steps in getting funds through to a contractor. Once a request for money has been made through the city's housing improvement office, said Greenstein, that request goes to the city comptroller, then to the accounting division, then to private commercial banks for preparation of the check, and then back through the same route to the housing office. Then it goes to the homeowner for his signature and, last of all, to the contractor.
Greenstein said the city is considering the use of private financial institutions to issue checks directly as a way of shortening the lengthy procedure.
Two years ago, there were so many administrative problems with the 312 program that the federal government cut off the District of Columbia's funding for nine months. Greenstein said the city improved its performance since then with a number of management changes.