Bancroft officials use grant to improve village

Bancroft Lions Park saw $20,000 in improvements last year and will receive $10,000 more this year, thanks to grants awarded by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s Neighborhood Enhancement Program.

SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — The village of Bancroft could use a little beautifying local officials say, which is one reason they are taking advantage of a neighborhood improvement grant program offered by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

Last year, Bancroft applied for and won a $20,000 grant through MSHDA’s Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP), using it to improve the pavilion and play area in Bancroft Lions Park.

Because the project was completed on time, Bancroft was fast-tracked this year for a second NEP grant of $10,000. Last week, MSHDA announced $2.1 million in NEP grants, including $10,000 to Bancroft and $30,000 to the city of Corunna.

“I know we need to clean our town up,” Village President Brian Barnum said Thursday. “The houses need repair, and the park was definitely falling into disrepair. We want to bring it back to where it once was — a community where people want to raise families and feel safe.”

In the park last year, grant funds covered the cost of renovating the pavilion and restoring playground equipment. The latest grant will be used to resurface the park’s tennis and basketball courts, located near the village water tower.

In addition, village leaders are encouraging homeowners to spruce up their houses.

“Lots of houses are doing their own improvements, which is what we’ve been pushing for,” Barnum said. “We’re pretty happy with what we’ve been able to do so far. We have a great group of volunteers, a core group that shows up and gets things done.”

NEP grants were recently awarded to 56 local governments and nonprofit groups across Michigan. NEP is designed to launch improvement projects directly tied to enhancing and stabilizing communities. Projects can focus on neighborhood public amenity enhancements, improve residents’ quality of life or help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this fifth round of NEP funding, MSHDA allocated $1 million to rural communities, designated as having 5,000 or fewer residents. Both Bancroft (pop. 497) and Corunna (pop. 3,355) qualified.

Corunna, which announced its grant previously, will use the $20,000 to finance exterior improvements to up to six local homes, officials said.

“This is a really neat grant program,” City Manager Joe Sawyer said. “We can help out distressed-looking properties — homes in need of siding or paint, for example. The improvements help prop up the entire neighborhood. We’re pretty excited to get to the phase where the properties we’re going to help are identified.”

Any city of Corunna homeowner who lives south of Corunna Avenue (in the area of Save-A-Lot grocery store and Cavalier Green), and meets income and other eligibility requirements is encouraged to apply at city hall. No financial match by the property owner is required, though owners are free to take on projects that go beyond the grant amount, at their own expense.

“We’re trying to assist those with the greatest need,” Sawyer said.

Jennifer Stout, Corunna’s deputy clerk who applied for and won the NEP grant, said the city has until Dec. 31 to complete the projects.

“We’re hoping we have tons of people who apply so we can help people out,” Stout said.

She said if the current round of funding goes well, she intends to apply for a second NEP grant next year so Corunna can help homeowners in another section of the city.

“These grants will allow local groups across the state help their communities with specific needs that improve the quality of life for residents. MSHDA supports innovative, highly visible and meaningful housing-focused ideas to improve and stabilize neighborhoods,” Gary Heidel, acting executive director of MSHDA, said in a news release.

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