Thursday, April 16, 2009

Giving out the grants: CDBG Part Two

A few weeks back, I wrote about the local non-profit groups and city departments that submitted applications for Community Development Block Grants. On Wednesday, the Citizen Advisory Committee met at City Hall to discuss how to distribute this federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is expected to amount to $407,000 this year.

In addition to their regular allocation, Middletown also has hopes that the Stimulus package will bring an additional $110,000 in CDBG funds, later this Spring. There will be a new, open round of applications for those funds, but they will only be targeting projects which are shovel-ready and can be completed within 120 days. As with all CDBG funds, the grants will be targeted for projects which help low to moderate income people.

At Wednesday's meeting, the CAC created a list of recommendations about which projects should be funded through CDBG. In May, the Common Council will consider that recommendation, but it should be noted that it's not uncommon for the Council to completely revise the distribution of the funds -- the work of the CAC is purely advisory.

Public Service

This year, the CAC attempted a new process for their $61,000 in public service grants. Instead of giving very small grants to the range of applicants, they decided to give larger grants to fewer applicants. They offered $15,000 each in three categories: after-school programs, home ownership and job training. There was an additional $16,000 left undesignated for any other projects the committee wished to support. Apparently, some of the applicants tailored their requests to these grants, but others did not. For example, there were four programs that offer after school/camp activities, but only two specifically requested that grant, so the others were competing for the unrestricted funds.

Creating these focused grants was an effort to be more strategic in their grant-giving, but the new system led to some conflict as the committee members realized that the unrestricted funds would not stretch as far as they would like.

The Public Service grant recommendations were:
•$15,000 after-school grant: Green Street Art Center
•$15,000 home ownership grant: North End Action Team
•$15,000 job training grant: Russell Library

The remaining $16,000 in unrestricted funds were recommended as follows:
•$8,000 to the Chamber of Commerce for their job training activities
•$5,000 to Oddfellows Playhouse for their neighborhood troupes
•$2,000 to Shiloh Christian for their Adventures in Learning after-school program
•$1,000 to Literacy Volunteers for their Macdonough parent tutoring pilot program

As I reported earlier, in this round there were $236,606 in applications for the $61,000 in grants. Green Street, Oddfellows, NEAT and Russell Library received their full request, although in each case the projects are only partially funded by CDBG. Shiloh Christian, Literacy volunteers and the Chamber received significantly less than they asked, but the committee felt that supplying even limited funding was an important step.

The following programs did not receive any funding: CRT's effort to make payments on delinquent mortgages; Amazing Grace's new Saturday hours at their food pantry; Raegan's job training and entrepreneurship program; Shiloh Baptist's Camp Shiloh; HOPE's effort to begin development of four new home-ownership units; the City's plan to offer a compact florescence bulb exchange; and CT Legal Services pilot program to educate social service providers about resources for people in need.

Planning & Other Grants

As expected, the Section 108 loan repayment was set at $45,000 and the $80,000 allotment for planning was recommended for expenses of the city Planning, Conservation and Development office. A new item was added by the Mayor's Office, however, to use $100,000 in CDBG funds to help pay for code enforcement activities by the city -- in other words, to pay for staff time of existing code enforcement officers. These expenses are all allowable by HUD and the CAC did not alter these requests.


After the other categories were completed, the CAC considered the remaining $121,000 for construction grants, making the following recommendations:

$35,000 to Godfrey Library to make the building accessible to people with disabilities
$36,515 to Shepherd Home to bring their kitchen up to code
$30,000 to the Middletown Police to buy an additional camera for the North End
$5,000 to Eddy Shelter to tile a floor
$14,485 to McCarthy Park to continue improvements at the downtown park

There were $811,476 in requests in this category. The Godfrey Library and Shepherd Home received their entire request, and the Middletown Police received half of their request for two cameras. The Eddy Shelter's request contained some ineligible items, and they were fully funded for the item which qualified. Friends of McCarthy Park received far less than their $71,500 request, but they made it clear that they could implement their work in phases if less funding was granted.

The projects that did not receive any funding were: the Middletown Public Schools proposal to upgrade the administration building at the corner of Hunting Hill and Russell Street; Shiloh Manor's request for various building repairs at the Butternut Street senior housing (affiliated with Shiloh Baptist); the city Redevelopment Agency project to purchase and demolish a house on Bridge Street; Gilead House's request for help with a downpayment on a Liberty Street house that they currently rent and operate; and the relocation of St. Vincent's Soup Kitchen, which is contingent on the move of the Community Health Center.

About the process

After the April 1st hearing, the members of the CAC ranked each application and tried to consider whether partial funding would be useful or whether the project was more of an all-or-nothing venture. In the future, making site visits and having more time with each applicant would be worthwhile goals, and would add to the logic of the recommendations.

The Common Council will review the recommendations and have the final say on how the CDBG funds are allocated. For the construction projects that did not receive funding, the committee was hopeful that some of them might be eligible if the City does receive Stimulus CDBG funds later this Spring.

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