Phil Ostrem knows how a home improvement project can grow with just a little extra incentive.
Assistant manager of the Sherwin-Williams store in Onalaska, Ostrem said he’s seen people start out painting one room and like the results enough to do two or three more.
“It inspires pride,” Ostrem said.
With that motivation in mind, the city of La Crosse has resurrected its Paint and Fix-up Grant program, aimed at providing seed money to help neighborhoods look better.
The program offers up to $800 for exterior work on owner-occupied homes: $300 for paint or stain, $500 for repairs and improvements.
Rental properties are eligible for the same amounts as well, but the owner must provide matching funds.
Unlike past years, when the program was limited to certain traditional neighborhoods, a total of $50,000 in assistance will be available to all city residents, said Tim Acklin, the city’s senior planner.
In addition, $10,000 from Tax Incremental Financing District 14 will be dedicated to the Powell-Hood-Hamilton neighborhood area and $16,000, donated by the La Crosse Community Foundation, will spur work in the Washburn neighborhood.
Those neighborhoods have a number of older residents on fixed incomes who may lack the funds for even basic maintenance.
“They want to keep up their properties, but they just can’t afford it,” said Ostrem, who heads the Powell-Hood-Hamilton Neighborhood Association.
“We have a lot of houses that only need cosmetic care.”
With others, the extra money might boost a modest makeover into something more substantial, Acklin said. Participants in a similar program in 2004 spent $5 for every $1 provided in aid.
Exterior improvements can include detached garages and fence painting or repairs, Acklin said. But the work must be to existing structures — the money can’t be used to add a deck, for example, or enclose a porch.
But step repairs, new windows, even replacing a crumbling walkway to the door will be considered, Acklin said.
Those interested must submit an application describing the project, including cost estimates and photographs of the current state of disrepair. Don’t start the work before completing the application process, Acklin warned.
And grants will not be given upfront; participants must pay out of pocket and will be reimbursed after providing receipts and documentation of the work done, Acklin said.
A decision on approval will be made within 10 business days, Acklin said. The city’s various neighborhood associations have agreed to help coordinate the program to speed the process.
Grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, Acklin said, “until I don’t have money anymore.”
He’s optimistic that will happen, that the initial improvements will trigger a “domino effect” through entire blocks.
“If a few people take advantage of this grant and fix their houses up,” he noted, “... then you get other people to fix their houses up.”