Oak Park residents looking for village help fixing their garages should be prepared to pay any money back.

The village board voted last week to change the garage grant program-which provided up to $8,500 for residents to repair or replace their garage-into a loan program for low-income households.

The program first started in September, 2002. The village is allocating $200,000 to the program for 2008, according to village documents.

When conceived, the garage grant program was intended to help bring privately owned, 1- to 4-unit properties in line with village codes. Public safety and property values would improve under the grant program, village officials believed.

The village board suspended the program last October-after approving $90,000 in garage grants-with a desire to fine-tune or disband the program.

The village also considered residents’ household incomes when awarding the grants. Since 2003, 71 percent of garage grants went to families with low to extremely low household incomes. About 22 percent went to those with average incomes and 7 percent to those with above-average incomes.

In addition to being a loan, the program now requires that funds go strictly toward garages for parking automobiles. Someone couldn’t use the loan for a coach house or second-floor addition on a garage, for instance, Housing Programs Manager Tammie Grossman said.

Village President David Pope said Oak Park should loan the money when a resident truly needs it. He doesn’t want the village to contribute to someone creating a “Taj Mahal” of garages, referring to one resident who created a second-floor garage addition last year.

Trustee Greg Marsey expressed reluctance to change the grant program with some requests still in limbo.

“We’ve got a whole series of applications that came in, fair and square, when that was a grant program,” he said. “Now we’re basically telling those people, after the fact, ‘Whoops, sorry, now it’s a loan and you need to reconsider what you’ve done.”

About 50 residents received violation notices for their garages in 2007 and 10 were issued tickets for those violations, Grossman said.

The maximum amount of a loan stays at $8,500. The village will check applicants’ household income to ensure they qualify. Cost of the garage repair or replacement must cost over 50 percent of a resident’s liquid assets. Priority goes to garages approved for housing rehab loans. Those that have been cited for code violations or deficiencies are also given precedence.

The village is setting a goal to rehab 25 garages this year with serious code violations to “improve the neighborhood appearance” and maintain property values, Grossman said.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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