1998 Finalist
State of Maine
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

Low-income homeowners living in substandard housing have traditionally received little help from state and federal programs. In the state of Maine, where homeownership rates are high and per capita income is one of the lowest in the country, substandard housing is an especially troublesome issue. Bank loans and grants from nonprofit agencies provided funding for home repairs in the past. The problem was that private loan interest carried its own burdens and grants could only help a limited number of homeowners, as determined by the size of the grant.

In light of this issue, the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) began the Fix Me home repair program. Fix Me combines existing state and private resources to more effectively provide repair funding for substandard housing. The result is a capability to write low interest loans to homeowners. These resources are then deployed through a variety of community action agencies, which are overseen by Fix Me and MSHA. Fix Me's loans carry interest rates of one to four percent and borrowers must fit within certain low-income brackets beginning at 80 percent of median income. Fix Me keeps track of each agency's use of funds and productivity while giving the most contracts to the most productive agencies.

The eleven community action agencies that Fix Me contracts with have extensive knowledge of their communities. The agencies have developed expertise in overseeing such projects by operating federal weatherization grant programs in the past. These factors make the community action agencies efficient vehicles for Fix Me's application. To further their efficiency, Fix Me keeps the agencies in constant competition for repair contracts.

In its first three years, Fix Me funded and facilitated 2,760 home repairs. The delinquency rate on loan repayment has been approximately 6.3 percent since the program's inception. Over half of the families served earn less than 50 percent of median income. This shift in methodology required no significant additional resources, but merely reallocated them in a new service delivery method. Because of federal weatherization programs, most states have community action agencies with experience in overseeing contractors. This element, combined with the fact that almost all states have organizations similar to the MSHA and existing housing funds, means that Fix Me would be highly replicable in other regions.