Norwalk sees sharp decrease in federal grants for urban development

NORWALK - With sharp cuts to federal housing and urban development funding expected next fiscal year, the Norwalk City Council on Tuesday clashed over the proper use of the grant money before approving a tentative resolution, which outlines how the nearly $1.5 million in funds should be spent.Similar to previous years, city officials are hoping to secure federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME). In a staff report, Bing Hyun, the city's planning manager, said Norwalk has seen a steady drop in community development funds, which support low to moderate income families and neighborhoods through street improvements, graffiti removal, emergency housing assistance and rental rehabilitation. In the past, the city applied each year and received approximately $1.5 - 1.7 million in CDBG funds and $500,000 - 600,000 in HOME funds annually. Last year, however, the city was allocated $1,396,595 in CDBG funds, a 16.5 percent decrease, and the HOME allocation was reduced to $505,366 from $575,056. During the 2012-13 Fiscal Year, the city also faces additional funding cuts. The city will receive $1,070,927 in CDBG funds and $254,056 in HOME funds, a nearly 50 percent decrease from last year. As a result, all of the city activities paid for by the federal grants will have reduced budgets, including the city's Code Enforcement program, which has not been allocated any funding yet. Last year, the program, which provides support for staff to promote the city's property maintenance efforts, had a budget of $100,000. City officials acknowledged the funding cuts, but maintained that the Code Enforcement program would be saved. "Code Enforcement will not be eliminated," said City Manager Mike Egan succinctly. "During the budget process this summer, it will be a decision of the council - something will have to be reduced, but we'll come up with a plan." Out of the $1.4 million in federal funds, the bulk, about $843,000, will go towards the city's residential rehabilitation program, which offers financial assistance for the improvement of single-family dwellings and rental units. Graffiti removal and emergency assistance programs will remain the same, at $45,000 and $50,000 respectively. The resolution also sets aside more than $38,000 for non-profit community based organizations to develop and sponsor affordable housing within Norwalk. The city is currently under contract with Habitat for Humanity. Each year, the city is allowed to give a maximum of 15 percent of the CDBG funds to non-profit agencies that provide a variety of services, such as crime prevention and public safety, child care, health services, substance abuse counseling, employment services, and homeless services. This year, $65,639 was allocated to these social services agencies. Last month, the Social Services Commission reviewed 12 agencies, including all of the 11 agencies funded last year and one new agency, and recommended only nine be awarded the community funds. The organizations include Community Family Guidance, Helpline Youth Counseling, Children's Dental Health Clinic, Community Legal Services, Little House Inc., Su Casa-Ending Domestic Violence, The Children's Clinic, Low Cost Community Counseling Center, and Southern CA Rehabilitation Services. Nonetheless, Councilman Mike Mendez expressed concern over the cuts, and suggested more could be done to guarantee funding for all of the agencies that applied. "As I look at this - we gave money to each of these groups last year," said Mendez. "It would've been nice to try and fund them all." Mayor Cheri Kelley, however, reminded the council that a minimum limit of $5,000 per agency had been set, preventing them from funding every organization adequately. "Quite frankly, it's not enough money to make a difference in operation," said Kelley. "We should rethink this - some of these groups get federal funding," added Councilman Marcel Rodarte. "We can cut from those with huge reserves and use the other funds to help the smaller groups out." The council agreed to review the application process and funding for the agencies.

********** Published: April 19, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 01