Otsego Rural Housing Assistance, Inc. celebrated 35 years of serving low- and moderate-income county residents and their communities Sunday, July 7.

The non-profit's mission is to improve chronic housing conditions in a low-wage, agricultural area, according to its website. Under contract with New York’s Homes & Community Renewal as a Rural Preservation Company (RPC), ORHA implements grant-funded programs providing home repair, home rehabilitation, accessibility modifications and rental assistance, according to a media release by ORHA.

Kimberley Adee, section 8 program manager and finance manager, has been with ORHA since 1984, its start year. When she started there as an administrative assistant and finance manager, there were only three employees; herself, then-Director Tony Scalisi and then-section 8 Housing Coordinator Mable Rice. Though the close-knit feel of the company hasn't changed — there are now four employees — advances in technology made things easier. Grant writing no longer has to be done by hand and computers have taken the place of typewriters, she said.

Something that's stood the test of time are ORHA's housing surveys. The first ones were done in the mid-80s in Hartwick and Edmeston, Adee said. The surveys were placed in people's doors for them to complete, allowing ORHA to get details on homeowner needs and increasing chances of grant awards.

"It betters your chance on an application if you have statistics on the area you're trying to help," Adee said.

ORHA's target population focuses on low income residents of Otsego County, specifically the elderly, people with disabilities and veterans, said ORHA Executive Director Timothy Peters. Reaching about 250 people a year, Peters said ORHA's influence is apparent; driving through the county, he can easily point out several houses ORHA has worked on.

“To be in a place or a building or home that's in need of serious assistance, and to make that assistance possible and to see the product — a working furnace or new roof or bathroom — that direct impact is the source of the satisfaction for me,” Peters said.

Using local contractors and suppliers, ORHA supplements Otsego County's economy with between $400,000 and $600,000 in home repair and renovation funds each year, according to the release. The funding comes from sources like Community Development Block Grants, the state HOME program and the Affordable Housing Corporation, according to the website.

Current projects include a pilot program to assist local farmers with home repair needs, several mobile home replacement grants and a $1.4 million Small Rental Development Initiative award from the state to convert a wing of the former Cherry Valley Central School into affordable senior rental apartments, in collaboration with the Cherry Valley Community Facilities Corporation.

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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