Little-known loan program in La Crosse helps residents fix up their homes

La Crosse offers Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program to qualifying residents

A little-known loan program in La Crosse is giving residents the tools they need to help fix up their homes and help revitalize their neighborhoods.

The city of La Crosse has been doing a lot of work on neighborhood revitalization. Part of that is demolishing and rebuilding homes but another big component is helping homeowners fix up their own houses.

La Crosse is filled with houses that were built more than 50 years ago and over time critical repairs need to be done to keep them up to code.

Instead of tearing down and rebuilding, the city is willing to help residents repair their older houses through its Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program.

Carla Pena has lived on the south side of La Crosse for the past 11 years

“I chose this area because my mother lived only a couple blocks away,” said Pena.

For the most part, Pena loved her new home but she knew it needed some updating.

“The kitchen had cupboards that were not good quality,” said Pena. “The drawers couldn’t be pulled out because they were wood on wood.”

However, the cost of home renovations can add up pretty quickly.

“It is expensive to get loans and I was trying to get out of debt,” said Pena.

That’s when Pena heard about the Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program.

“This is one of the best-kept secrets in La Crosse,” said Caroline Neilsen, community development administrator with city of La Crosse.

“The city gets grant money and they loan it out to citizens at low cost,” said Pena.

Homeowners can apply for a loan up to $25,000 from the city but there are requirements.

“You do have to meet our income qualifications at 80 percent of the county median income,” said Neilsen.

For a single person to qualify, they cannot make more than $39,000 a year. For two people, they can’t make more than $44,000 a year. Plus, you have to be a La Crosse resident and up to date on mortgage and real-estate tax payments.

Once you are accepted, the money can be used right away. Homeowners don’t have to pay back the loan until after the home is sold and the loan comes with a low interest rate.

“Right now we have a rate of 1 percent interest that isn’t paid back for 20 years or 15 years, whenever you leave your home,” said Neilsen.

Since receiving the money, Pena has brought her house back up to code with electricity and plumbing. She was also able to update her kitchen, too.

“It increases the value of the city,” said Pena. “It’s an easy sell then.”

But Pena doesn’t plan on putting her house back on the market any time soon.

“I don’t plan on moving until I have to,” said Pena.

Neilsen said the housing rehabilitation loan program is self-sustaining, which means they don’t get more money from the government every year.   Because homeowners don’t pay anything on the loan until they move from their house, the city is receiving about $100,000 a year in payments from loans taken out 30 years ago.

Since 1983, the city of La Crosse has given out about 1,200 housing rehabilitation loans. The city is currently processing about 20 new loans and is taking more loan applications at this time.

Click here for more information about the housing rehabilitation loan program.