The opportunity for community organizations and nonprofits to apply for funding from four “entitlement programs” of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) opened in January. The deadline for applications to the City of Fresno ends Feb. 28. These funds are granted to municipalities to dispense through a local decision-making process, subject to HUD eligibility guidelines.
The City of Fresno receives annual allocations from HUD through four grant programs: Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs), the HOME Investment Partnership Program (HOME), Emergency Solutions Grant (ESGs) and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS/HIV (HOPWA). Fresno is eligible for these programs as a municipality with a population above 50,000. Urban counties, those with more than 200,000 residents in the last Census, which includes Fresno County, also qualify for these grants. While the exact amount of funding available from HUD in the coming fiscal year won’t be known until April or May, estimates are based on the current fiscal year’s grant funds, which totaled around $12 million.
The largest fraction of the consolidated funding budget comes from the CDBG program, which is designed to help the city provide decent housing, improve the living environment of neighborhoods and expand economic opportunities. Funds are available for capital improvements to public and nonprofit facilities, loans for rehabilitation of rental housing and improvement of commercial facades, and community-based activities serving low-income and special needs households, including health, literacy, substance abuse, crime prevention, energy conservation, job training and many other services.
Last year’s plan used CDBG funds for improvements to six city parks, neighborhood lighting installations in 18 city neighborhoods, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) improvements to sidewalks and curbs, and the creation of safe routes to schools. The Marjorie Mason Center, Westcare California and Stone Soup Fresno received money to improve their facilities. Funds were used to help owners bring their homes into code compliance and for seniors to paint their homes. Public service grants went to nonprofits that manage afterschool programs, boys’ and girls’ clubs, senior hot meals, career development and tenant education.
The HOME Investment Partnership Program provides funds to assist homeownership, home rehabilitation, property acquisition and the building of affordable housing, and tenant rental assistance. All HOME projects must use 100% of the funding to benefit households or individuals with incomes less than 80% of the local median income, and they must provide 25% matching funds from a non-federal source. Fifteen percent of HOME funds are set aside for Community Housing Development Organization activities, which this year went to Habitat for Humanity.
ESGs are designed to help both sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons, as well as those at risk of homelessness, by providing services that allow them to quickly regain stability in permanent housing after a housing crisis or an episode of homelessness. Eligible provisions include financial assistance for rent application fees, security deposits and last month’s rent, as well as moving costs, utility payments and rental arrears. ESG funds are also used for street outreach to connect the homeless with shelter, housing, health and transportation services, and to assist emergency shelters in their operations.
The fourth component of the city’s consolidated HUD grant plan is HOPWA, which serves persons with AIDS or HIV who are experiencing a housing crisis or homelessness. Funds can be used to provide rent, mortgage and utilities payments for part of a year so those at risk of homelessness can remain in their own dwellings, as well as for supportive services such as health and mental healthcare, substance abuse treatment, daycare, nutritional services, personal assistance (and intensive care if needed) and assistance in gaining access to other government benefits.
All the HUD entitlement grants are administered under a Five-Year Consolidated Plan (ConPlan). The current ConPlan ends in 2020. Each year, the city invites the public through “Community Workshops and Conversations” to help in planning how Fresno will invest these funds. Feedback provided by participants is recorded as official public commentary to contribute to the city’s needs assessment.
At the Jan. 18 meeting, held at Living Grace Fellowship Church in West Fresno, members of Trans-E-Motion, a nonprofit celebrating transgender life and advocating for the needs of transgender and gender diverse persons, expressed concern that insufficient resources are available for trans persons in crisis. Sometimes shelters are unavailable to those with nontraditional gender identities. With so many unused buildings in the city, why cannot some of them be converted to provide shelters for those unserved by existing shelters for the homeless, they asked.
Tom Morgan, manager of Fresno’s Housing and Community Development Commission (HCDC), explained that organizations applying for construction funds will be engaging in a competitive process that favors shovel-ready projects. A request for such funds should have a property identified and title transfer ready. “Facility projects need work before they are successful,” he said.
HUD requires organizational facilities to have a 20-year lease. Morgan suggested that a nonprofit could set up a partnership to carry out its plans. “One organization does not have to do everything, but can get funding and then subcontract to other organizations.”
The pastor of the church hosting the workshop asked about funding for some of the church’s programs, such as homeless assistance, setting up a daycare center and their monthly food giveaway. Specifically, they hope to construct a walk-in freezer to hold the meat that is donated to them.
Morgan assured him that faith-based programs can apply, but the services provided under HUD-funded programs must be available to anyone, not just congregants of the church or members of a particular faith, and any infrastructure purchased or built should be reserved for the program’s purpose and not used during the church’s regular activities.
Another workshop attendee asked if neighborhood pocket parks would be eligible. Title to a new park must be held by a community organization or a nonprofit, Morgan answered. The park must have open accessibility. Gated parks are not eligible for funding. Only capital funds to build the park are available. The agency controlling the park must have a separate budget for maintenance and operating expenses, which includes liability insurance.
The community needs assessment revision to the ConPlan was completed by the HCDC in January, with additional feedback from the public at a Jan. 24 hearing. Applications for funding are due at the end of February. All proposals will be posted online on the HCDC section of the city government Web site. Applications will be reviewed to determine that the agency and the scope of the proposed activity are eligible under HUD’s funding guidelines. It must also accord with the needs identified in the Notice of Funding Availability. There is a scoring process for applications using a HUD-mandated format.
At a public hearing on March 14, the HCDC will hear oral presentations from each agency applying for funds, then debate which projects will be included in the Draft Action Plan. The deliberations will be in an open session so that the public can see how the projects are chosen by the HCDC.
A public comment period for the Draft Action Plan runs from March 23 to April 23. Meanwhile, city staff will conduct any necessary environmental impact reports. Construction projects, in particular, must consider possible archaeological remains on the site, endangered species and the taking of farmland. If there is an unavoidable adverse impact, then mitigations must be included. If a facility is to be developed near an airport, for instance, mitigation for the excess noise experienced by clients and employees might involve greater soundproofing in the construction of the facility.
Finally, on April 27 the Fresno City Council will hold a public hearing to consider the Action Plan. An additional date is scheduled for May 3 in case more time is needed for review. The approved 2018–2019 Action Plan must be consistent with the five-year Consolidated Plan’s priorities. The deadline for the city’s submission to HUD is May 15.
Bob Turner, a former Bay Area physics and geology teacher, is the editor of Tehipite Topics, the quarterly newsletter of the Tehipite Chapter of the Sierra Club, and a member of the Downtown Fresno Coalition. Contact him at email@example.com.