Otsego Rural Housing Assistance (ORHA) helps homeowners of modest means stay in their homes and keep those dwellings comfortable and safe. Although Otsego County is small—with only about 60,000 people—the need for housing assistance there seems almost limitless, says Timothy Peters, executive director of ORHA, in Cooperstown.
Beyond Cooperstown and Oneonta, Otsego is largely an agricultural region. Prosperity in many of its small communities ended decades ago, Peters says. “As in much of rural America, the infrastructure, housing stock and civic infrastructure have deteriorated over the years. Our goal is to assist people and communities by preserving and improving the housing stock.”
ORHA does this by hiring local contractors to rehabilitate homes. That might mean replacing a roof, fixing a broken porch, replacing a water heater or making other improvements that keep the home habitable. “The target population is low and moderate-income homeowners, with a special focus on senior citizens and people with disabilities,” Peters says. Much of the funding comes from state and federal housing programs.
Mobile homes make up about 14 percent of the housing stock in Otsego County. ORHA normally repairs mobile homes located on homeowners’ own land. But it can’t use government funds to fix homes on rented lots in mobile home parks.
“A lot of people are trapped in aging, collapsing or deteriorating mobile homes,” Peters says. Those structures may pose health and safety risks with costly consequences—for instance, when an elderly person trips on a broken step, breaks a hip and ends up in a nursing home.
That’s why ORHA proposed a pilot program specifically focused on repairing mobile homes on rented lots. The Community Foundation granted $8,000 for that pilot in 2018. The money gives ORHA a chance to test the concept, measure the response and discover if it’s practical to expand the program.
“We’re likely to find that there are many more people than we can help with this pilot,” Peters says. But if ORHA demonstrates the need and handles the challenge well, its early success might help attract larger grants from other funders, he says.
While the $8,000 will help some people who live in mobile homes, the pilot will also give ORHA some experience it can apply in the future, Peters says. “We can learn new things that would guide later revisions of the concept for the program, or for subsequent funding requests.”