LIMA — Year after year, Lima City Council tends to hold some of its most contentious meetings when the Community Development Block Grant allocation process kicks off.
The 2020 process may trump past years. Here’s why.
Community Development Block Grants, more commonly referred to as CDBG, is a federal program administered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that allocates dollars earmarked specifically for low- to moderate-income residents.
In more real terms, the City of Lima receives roughly $1.4 million annually to dish out how it sees fit along HUD’s guidelines. Nonprofits and residents are allowed to apply for the funds to start or run local programs, but the final allocation amounts are generally decided by the city with approval from council.
But what complicates the issue is how the program is administered. HUD requires that the dollars be spent according to its rules, and the federal agency asks for a lot of documents in order to adequately trace their dollars.
One of those requirements is a five-year-plan, which sets out how dollars will be used. Penalties can be enacted by HUD if that plan and subsequent spending don’t mesh.
It just happens that 2020 kicks off the process for the next five-year plan.
A number of councilors have already voiced concerns.
“My hope with the new five-year plan is that we focus on the services that the residents are saying they need in the community,” councilor Jamie Dixon said.
Dixon’s wish list includes making more funds available for first-time home-buyers, housing repairs and similar housing initiatives. He is also concerned about this year’s process, especially about getting more people from the neighborhood to voice their opinions of where the dollars should go.
Community Development Director Susan Crotty said the city already involves people in that process. In the last five year plan spanning from 2015 to 2019, 828 people completed an online survey informing the plan, and an additional 131 residents either took part in a focus group or completed a topic-specific questionnaire.
As the city prepares for the next five-year plan, a survey again is available online, and the city is holding a number of public hearings — five in total — to ensure that residents get a say.
Dixon, however, said he wants to see more interaction with those considered low- to moderate-income who will actually benefit from the services provided through CDBG dollars.
“We have to make sure we’re hearing the people and not just doing what we think is best from the people,” Dixon said.
Councilor Derry Glenn echoed similar sentiments. The 6th Ward councilor said he’d like for the funds to be used for housing and job training, especially for young people, but he is also concerned about the city essentially moving forward with the same initiatives it has done in the past, which he said hasn’t helped with some of Lima’s longstanding problems.
“The same people got (the dollars) for five years, and I don’t see anything different. I want to make sure that these neighborhoods are better off,” Glenn said. “Money is short, I understand that, but we can use what we got to bring more safety and more development in our city.”
As for current allocation levels, just over a third of CDBG funds complement existing city programs that deal with property maintenance, street repair and CDBG administrative costs. Other programs receiving large portions of either CDBG or HOME funds include First Home Lima, a down payment assistance program ran by the West Ohio Community Action Partnership, the demolition of blighted structures and some neighborhood assistance dollars. The largest of these, First Home Lima, had been allocated $100,800 in the 2019-2020 planning year.
“Let’s be creative with this money,” Glenn said. “Let’s be different. We got the opportunity to take this money and make a difference with it.”
The first public hearing in the process kicks off Thursday night.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.