City organizations seek federal funds

In a public Board of Aldermen hearing that lasted well over two hours Wednesday night, city departments and community organizations participated in an annual clamor for federal funds.

The hearing featured testimony from applicants — ranging from the city’s Office of Management and Budget to Hispanic advocacy group Junta for Progressive Action — for the funds on the city’s Consolidated Annual Action Plan for fiscal year 2013–’14. The document outlines the city’s proposal, which will not be finalized until June, for awarding the funds, which are intended mostly for local community development programs. In its testimony, each organization sought to convince the Board of Aldermen’s Joint Committee on Community Development and Human Services of the importance of funding its programs with the grants.

Weighing over the testimonies, though, were likely cuts in the federal grants that could trim as much as $301,230 from the $3,673,534 the city received in the 2012–’13 fiscal year.

“We do not have a lot of money in [Community Development Black Grants],” said Ward 26 Alderman Sergio Rodriguez, who co-chairs the committee with Ward 21 Alderman Brenda Foskey-Cyrus. “This is always very tough for those of us who sit at this table.”

Each year, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development gives the funds — Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS and Emergency Solutions Grants — to the city, which is then charged with distributing them through a competitive process.

The exact reductions the grants will face remain uncertain and are unlikely to be finalized for at least two weeks, according to Elizabeth Smith, a project coordinator in the city’s OMB. Smith, who testified to the committee, said that the city planned for an 8.2 percent reduction in funds from last year after consulting with HUD. Yet she added that a HUD deputy secretary recently told the city that the funds could be reduced by as little as 5 percent, or potentially not at all.

Beyond federal budget considerations, HUD determines the size of the grants awarded to cities based on a formula that takes into account housing stock, income levels and numerous other factors. Cities whose needs are deemed greater are awarded more grant money.

Smith said that the city is currently debating how it would alter the grants should the cuts be reduced by less than 8.2 percent. Two options are available, one in which additional grants would be awarded and one in which organizations already awarded grants would be given additional funding.

Several testimonies highlighted the competitiveness of the application process, the results of which largely determine what projects the city’s government and community organizations can afford to take on.

“I know that everyone before you will have a wonderful story,” said Jim Travers, the city’s director of traffic and transportation. “We have more projects than we have opportunities for funding.”

Because of the high number of applicants and worthwhile projects, the city this year encouraged organizations to attempt to work together in their proposed projects.

“We wanted to work towards collaborative programs so the funding isn’t spread so thin,” Smith said.

Wednesday’s hearing came nearly a year after a legislative push, led by Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, sought to reduce the length of CDBG hearings, which in the past have lasted even longer. As a result, organizations and city departments that have received funding for two consecutive years are no longer required to testify before the committee.

However, many still chose to. Ronald Manning, a deputy community services administrator, said that although Emergency Solutions Grants have been awarded to a seasonal homeless shelter for at least eight years, he still chose to testify in order to emphasize the grants’ importance in providing for the city’s homeless.

Looking out over the over 50 representatives of organizations and departments at the start of the hearing, Rodriguez hinted at the continued length of the meeting.

“Next year, you may be seeing a change in the way we do this,” he said.

Last year’s CDBG funding saw a 5.6 percent decrease from fiscal year 2011–’12.

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