Warning! If you search the Web for "home improvement grants," you're likely to get some shady sites promising you "exclusive" access to grant information--for a fee. What they don't tell you is that most home improvement grants are distributed at the state or local level, not directly to individuals. The other detail omitted is that, typically, available funds are loaned at a low-interest rate or as rebates after the work on your house is completed. Only a few qualify as grants without repayment.
So do free home improvement grants to fix up your house exist?
The short answer is yes. The longer and more accurate answer is: It's not as simple or as fast as you might be led to believe. Part of the confusion that plays to the swindlers' advantage is that many legitimate government sites do offer information on home improvement grants.
Here's a guide to the legitimate sites offering home improvement grants:
Offering: Direct loans and project grants (amount varies)
The first and best place to find grants for your home improvements is by contacting your local city or county office. Cities and counties may have grant funds available to make specific home improvements, or improvements in specific locations -- such as areas receiving a Community Development Block Grant. The latter is a federal program that focuses on redevelopment of all types and may include grant money for home improvement in your area.
Local grants are funded by private donations or from funds distributed by the state or federal government. Grants may exist in your area to restore historical features on homes, improve energy efficiency or conserve natural resources, such as water. Sorry, no grants exist to remodel your kitchen or bathroom, as you might be lead to believe from less-than-accurate sites.
STATE AND FEDERAL PROGRAMS
Offering: Direct loans and project grants
U.S. Department of Energy Other home improvement grant opportunities exist through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) of 2009. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program, for example, distributes money to make homes more energy-efficient. These funds are distributed to states and localities through the Department of Energy.
For example, in Virginia low-income households may qualify for weatherization grants to improve insulation in their homes.
To find the home improvement grant money available in your area, go to the State Energy Program at NASEO (National Association of State Energy Officials). Again, these funds are distributed to the city level and typically must be repaid, so, best to start your search locally.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Grants
The USDA provides a range of grants for very low income households in rural areas. Loans and grants to fix houses must be used for specific repairs -- again, don't be misled to think you can build that outdoor deck you've always wanted. Most monies are structured as very low-interest loans. Those that qualify for grants without repayment are low-income individuals over the age of 62. There are other income, location and other eligibility requirements as well. To get started, contact your local Rural Development office.
Search for grants in your area at the USDA website.
WHEN YOU GET A GRANT
If you meet the requirements and receive a home improvement grant, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, the process may take several weeks to complete, as all stages of the process must be verified. So don't expect money immediately. Second, be prepared to document the improvements made to your house. You will be expected to demonstrate the home improvement grant funds have been used properly (so, just in case, you might want to cancel that Jacuzzi and wet-bar order).
Katie McCaskey serves on a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) board, locally called SPARC, in Staunton, Va.