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Durham's HUD Funding -- Part III: Issues & the Citizen's Role

Today I wrap-up this series on Durham's HUD funding by looking at some of the perennial issues and how we as citizens can influence this process.

Issue 1:  The city takes a lot of the money ... on the order of 65% - 70% depending on the year. HUD guidelines permit the city to take a set percentage of the funds (around 20% though the amount varies per funding vehicle) for administration.  This basically pays for the checkers and the checkers of the checkers to ensure the funds are properly used.  In the allocations spreadsheet I provided you'll see this as the "Administration" line item.  But you'll notice that the city *distributes* additional line items to themselves for various activities like relocation, land acquisition, and repairs.  Why is this a problem?  Well, the ideas behind HUD funding are twofold:  create needed housing and services for low- to moderate- income households and allocate these funds to local service providers to provide additional economic stimulus in the area.  By withholding the money for these items themselves instead of distributing the funds to local service providers, the city is effectively failing to leverage the money in the local economy.  One city agency line-item is particularly egregious: the Department of Neighborhood Improvement Services funding out of CDBG (~$450,000).  Local activists have been begging the city to reduce that line item 33% each year until it is eliminated and to fund this department out of the general fund -- but it has not happened.  If you look at the historical allocations, the amount has remained around 20% of the overall CDBG funding.  The problem here is simple:  the city department responsible for code enforcement and community relations (core city functions) are not adequately funded out of the city's general fund so they take the additional money from an entitlement program.  Essentially, the city created a department it could not afford and is now funding it with federal dollars.  This problem is further compounded by the fact that the city is not required to submit the application rationale and performance reporting on these activities to the Citizens' Advisory Committee so these funds receive almost no oversight.  Let me say that again, nearly 70% of the HUD entitlement funds receive no oversight by the city committee established to provide this oversight!

Issue 2:  A key tenet of the Consolidated Plan -- neighborhood planning -- is not being implemented.  Quoting directly from the Consolidated Plan, "In order to effectively target funds to have a measurable impact on neighborhoods, DHCD [Department of Housing and Community Development ... the old name for the Dept. of Community Development] will implement a planning process that identifies neighborhoods that are either in deteriorating condition or at risk for disinvestment ... In addition, a Neighborhood Planner will be hired to coordinate with City/County Planning to examine neighborhoods for transportation, zoning, land use and other issues vital to neighborhood health and sustainability.  This process will allow DHCD to more effectively deploy resources to those neighborhoods in need."  Three years into the implementation of the 5-year Consolidated Plan, no such planner had been hired, though one may have been hired by now.  Moreover, early on the City abandoned the directive of neighborhood targeting advocating an "invest where there is already activity going on" approach.  While this latter part sounds reasonable on the surface, the lack of any neighborhood planning has left so many neighborhoods (e.g., Cleveland-Holloway, St. Theresa's/Southside, and others) flapping in the wind waiting for some attention from the Department of Community Development.  The original intent of the consolidated plan to actually have a plan for neighborhoods in trouble has fallen by the wayside.  In my professional experience, when the problems are big you can only be successful if you have a plan!

Issue 3:  Informal rules set by the city are haphazardly applied.  For example, no agency will receive funds for more than three years.  While there are firm restrictions from HUD on the allocation of funding, there is no restriction for repeatedly funding the same agency.  However, the city has imposed a three year rule that is only sometimes applied -- normally when it is convenient to exclude an agency from receiving funding.  This year, Urban Ministries is not being recommended to receive funding for its Community Kitchen.  Nevermind that this is one of the few community kitchens in Durham operating 7 days a week, three meals a day and that many days it is by some artful combination of luck, grace, and miracles that they have enough food to feed folks. Now the city arbitrarily wants to deny them of the requested $50,000 while they continue to fund themselves more than three years in a row for the Department of Neighborhood Improvement Services (see issue I above).  And this brings me to my final point on HUD funding in Durham ...

We as citizens need to be involved.  There are many ways to be involved:

  1. Volunteer to serve on the Citizens' Advisory Committee.  You can do this by completing an application and submitting it to the City Clerk. There are currently four vacancies and this committee can always use folks who are motivated to help the low- to moderate- income folks in our area.
  2. You can always attend a Citizens' Advisory Committee meeting without any notice -- just go!  You can stay in touch with them by joining their Yahoo! Group site.
  3. Attend the public hearings on the Annual Action Plan.  This is rarely well publicized but if you call the Department of Community Development they should be able to direct you.
  4. As mentioned in Part I, the Consolidated Plan is done every 5 years.  The next Consolidated Plan will begin construction in the next year or so.  You should contact the Department of Community Development and ask them how you can be a part of this effort.
  5. And, as always, contact your City Council members and let them know your thoughts on these matters.

I want to thank Kevin for the opportunity to share my thoughts on this subject and I want to thank all of the BCR readers for being patient with what I know is a relatively tedious subject.  But it's a lot of money and it affects much of the inner-core of our city so I think it is important to be well informed on the topic.

Chuck Clifton

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