URBANA — A new roof is a big-ticket item for a lower-income home owner, but how does free sound?

Homeowners living in Champaign County — with the exception of those living in the incorporated areas of Champaign, Urbana and Rantoul — can now apply to a new program covering the cost of new roofs, gutters, downspouts, exterior siding, porches and steps.

The program is being run by the Danville-based Central Illinois Land Bank Authority with $500,000 of the federal coronavirus relief funding that came to Champaign County.

Applicants must meet income-eligibility guidelines, and the project must be for an owner-occupied single-family home or mobile home on a foundation.

Technically, each approved project will leave the homeowner with a zero-interest, forgivable loan.

The loan will be written off after five years, so this program is intended for people planning to live in their homes at least that long, according to the land bank’s executive director, Mike Davis.

Anyone receiving the assistance who sells their home before five years will have to repay the unforgiven loan balance out of the sale proceeds.

“As long as someone is staying in the house for a few years and they don’t plan on leaving, this is a great deal,” Davis said.

This program is intended to head off big home-maintenance problems before they occur, he said.

A good use of the county’s money, for example, would be a needed roof replacement before the roof is so far gone that it’s led to major interior damage and mold.

He doesn’t want to scare off applicants, Davis said, but, “we can’t have really problematic life and safety conditions inside the home.”

Champaign County is one of 21 member communities of the land bank, which was originally launched in Vermilion County and helps its member local governments fight blight.

In Champaign County, the program is intended to help maintain existing housing stock and provide healthier and safer housing, according to information the county is providing to township supervisors to help promote applications.

“This is all about how we help people in need access resources,” Davis said. “I’m hopeful we get lots of applications and can do some great work throughout the county.

To be eligible, homeowners must have incomes that are 65 percent or below the area’s median income, for example, $41,550 for one person, $47,500 for two people, $59,350 for a family of four, all the way up to $78,350 for a family of eight.

Applications will initially be selected by lottery and then screened for eligibility. All selected projects will be put out to bid, and the land bank will choose the lowest responsible bidders.

Davis said he hopes to recruit more local contractors to participate.

“I want to work with good local companies,” he said.

Davis said applications must be submitted by mid-May, and can be done online. To apply, head to https://bit.ly/3oh2Lli.