FAYETTEVILLE -- The selected recipients for this year's Community Development Block Grant program money are ready to go to the Fayetteville City Council for consideration next month.
There was enough money to go around for the organizations that had qualified applications. The pool for next year's money may consider more applicants if a new advisory board is successful in generating interest in the program.
Community advocates acknowledge a crossroads when it comes to the limited amount of money available for public services. On the one hand, community engagement is good, and the more organizations know about the resources available, the better.
On the other hand, changing who gets what could mean an organization that needs the money may not get it, or at least not the full amount requested.
The amount of money cities receive for their block grant programs varies every year. Each city must abide by the same set of federal rules but can choose to use the money to address different needs.
Fayetteville will receive $737,911 for this year. The city received $741,531 last year, $702,439 in 2019, $668,915 in 2018 and $612,164 in 2017.
Most of this year's money -- $470,149 -- will go toward the city's program to house people and to rehabilitate and repair low- to moderate-income owner-occupied houses. Another $64,072 is for getting derelict properties into compliance with city codes or for demolishing them.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development caps the use of the rest of the money. Twenty percent, which is $114,531, goes to administration. The remaining portion for public services is capped at 15% of the total, meaning charitable organizations applied to receive a portion of $89,159 this year.
WelcomeHealth, a free medical clinic for low-income families on Woolsey Avenue, is to receive the most money of seven organizations, with $20,000. Monika Fischer-Massie, executive director, said the money will provide medical and dental care for uninsured or underinsured patients.
The money is crucial to the clinic's operation, Fischer-Massie said. It represents about 4.5% of the clinic's entire $450,000 annual budget, she said.
Court-Appointed Special Advocates of Northwest Arkansas in Springdale serves foster children in Fayetteville and throughout Washington, Benton, Carroll and Madison counties. The $10,000 the organization is set to receive will pay a third of the $30,000 cost to advocate for 25 foster children, said Colleen Smith, director of development and marketing. The money supports the salaries of supervisors who oversee the volunteers who advocate for the children, she said.
"To serve every child in foster care, as we have since June 2019, in some ways every funding source is more critical," Smith said. "We keep expanding as an organization, so our needs continue to grow."
The city should receive the money a few weeks after the July 6 council meeting, if it approves the allocation, said Yolanda Fields, community resources director. Budgeting is tricky because the federal government works on a different schedule from the city, and the result is the city receiving the money in the middle of the calendar year, she said.
The council also will have before it the latest draft of the city's Community Development Block Grant five-year consolidated plan. The 130-page plan is largely a vision document with facts and figures on the economic makeup of the city, Fields said. The Community Resources Division comes up with a specific plan each year using guidance from the consolidated plan, she said.
The federal government has to approve all of the plans that go through the City Council. There are strict rules for the use of the money. A representative of each organization applying for money has to attend a workshop the first week of August outlining all of them.
Public feedback to shape each year's plan has been historically low, Fields said. The 30-day federally required public comment period rarely nets much input, if any. The public meeting that the federal government requires the city to hold often happens without anyone showing up.
The City Council in December created a new advisory board to replace the committee of city staffers who previously prioritized the list of applicants. The board consists of advocates in housing and homelessness services, community food systems, residents and small-business owners.
The previous committee was made up of personnel across city departments for planning, community resources, police and fire. Former Council Member Kyle Smith sponsored the measure creating the new board because he wanted to put together a broader sector of interests to sift through applications, he said.
"We need to make sure we are spending those limited public funds in the way that's going to get the most impact," Smith said. "That may well be the same groups that've been getting it all this time. Or it might be that it's time to review and make sure we're still having the greatest possible impact, and if not, then reallocation is appropriate."
Part of the goal for the new board is to increase community engagement, said Ashlee Hicks, board chairwoman.
The board had its first meeting in May. By September, it will prioritize applications.
Community Development Block Grant
Fayetteville is proposing to use federal money in the following ways to address community needs for this year. The public comment period ends Tuesday and can be provided at bit.ly/faycdbg .
• Housing — $470,149: Rehabilitation and repair to bring low- to moderate-income owner-occupied residences up to code, and to increase energy efficiency and address lead-based paint issues. Also includes costs for management and oversight of the city’s Hearth housing program.
• Administration — $114,531: Salary and benefits for personnel, office supplies, training costs and other costs associated with administration of community development activities.
• Redevelopment — $64,072: Code compliance, clearance and demolition of properties and structures in the city.
• WelcomeHealth — $20,000: A portion of the costs to provide free medical and dental care to uninsured or underinsured low-income families.
• OneCommunity — $14,770: Supporting the Feed Your Brain family literacy program.
• Magdalene Serenity House — $13,000: A potion of the salary for a full-time resident support specialist.
• CASA of NWA — $10,000: Advocacy for abused and neglected children in the city.
• Central United Methodist Church — $15,000: Rapid rehousing assistance for families and individuals.
• LifeSource International — $10,000: A portion of the costs for the Kid’s Life Afterschool Care and Summer Day Camp program.
• Yvonne Richardson Community Center — $6,389: Hire a staff member for the Kids’ Nite after school program.
Source: Fayetteville Community Resources Division