Image by Erin used with permission.

DC is an expensive place to live and own a home, but if you’re a homeowner there are things you can do right now to help make ends meet.

Here are some programs and opportunities you might not know about that help you repair, preserve, and earn income from your house:

1. Build out and rent a part of your property

One way to generate revenue for yourself is to take advantage of a new possibility in DC through something called accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as accessory apartments. An ADU can be a finished and separate basement, an attachment to the house, or a separate dwelling unit constructed on the property.

A September 2016 change in DC zoning laws now enables neighborhoods in low-density areas throughout the District to create an ADU on their property. You can use them as apartments for family members or rent the units for extra income each month. An ADU not only brings income, but also adds value to your house, creates affordable spaces, and increases generational wealth.

While having an ADU on your property can generate income, it can also be intimidating because of the costs associated with creating and maintaining the unit. Especially for homeowners east of the river who might have less resources, this is a challenge.

I have been a part of a workgroup that has been formed to looking at financing options, design, construction, community input, and other issues associated with bringing this to scale in communities east of the river. It has been very successful in such areas like Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington.

One of the things we learned from a survey of ADU owners was that they wished they had more information up front. To that end, we’re taking time to inform communities and stakeholders before fully rolling out this program in DC. We are planning a comprehensive process of input, study, and piloting before bringing ADUs to scale in the District.

2. Help the city with runoff and get low cost landscaping 

First formed to slow down and clean the runoff rainwater flowing from private properties, RiverSmart can also be used to enhance the beauty of your property. This DC-based program offers low-cost installation of rain barrels, tree-planting or creation of rain gardens. You can call for an appointment, and a landscaper will do a free evaluation of your property.

The city is looking for slopes and inclines which may cause dirt and chemicals to run off into the sewer system. The RiverSmart staff will work with you to choose what options will work best for your property, including rain barrels, planting trees, or installing a rain garden. It may take time to get an appointment, but it’s well worth the wait. The best time to call is during the fall and winter months.

A United Planning Organization client being counseled. Image by Uniting People with Opportunities used with permission.

3. Get help paying back taxes and mortgages

Administered by the DC Housing and Finance Agency, HomeSaver was started under the Obama administration to slow down the rate of foreclosures–and there is still funding for the program for at least the next two years. Up to $60,000 per person is available to homeowners who have experienced a serious hardship that has caused them to fall behind on their mortgage, taxes, or homeowner association dues.

You must be able to demonstrate a clear hardship and show how it has impacted your ability to pay your mortgage. If you’re unemployed, for instance, you must have registered with the local unemployment office. You apply online, then bring your documents (mortgage statement, banks statements, tax forms, income statements, etc.) to a selected provider such as the United Planning Organization (UPO)

Not only can you get assistance with arrearages, but you can receive up to 24 months going forward if you’re underemployed. After that you must demonstrate that you can pay the mortgage after assistance.

4. Get help with repairs and accessibility

The Single Family Residential Rehabilitation Program (SFRRP) offers low-interest loans or grants to repair houses owned by DC residents to reduce city building codes violations, to fix items that may threaten or health or safety, and minimize accessibility barriers. It’s administered by the DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and selected community-based organizations provide intake for the application.

Under SFRRP, the roof repair program provides grants of up to $15,000 for seniors to replace or repair their roof, exterior roofing and gutter work only. The Handicapped Accessibility Improvement Program (HAIP) offers grants of up to $30,000 for modifications that will enhance mobility. They are able to adjust most physical barriers within a home.

For seniors 62 years or older, the first $10,000 of a loan can be permanently deferred. Loans and grants can be combined but cannot exceed $75,000 and applicants must be income qualified.

Want to find out more about these programs? United Planning Organization is holding a homeowners resource fair on Saturday, October 14 to begin introducing the accessory apartment concept the community. It's from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm at the Petey Greene Community Center in Congress Heights.