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Harrisburg proposes changing procedures, timeframe for disbursing federal housing funds

Franchon Dickinson, Harrisburg’s director of building and housing, speaks to City Council on Tuesday night.

Harrisburg plans to shake up the yearly process of doling out federal housing dollars under its “Annual Action Plan” unveiled on Tuesday night.

Franchon Dickinson, director of the city’s Department of Building and Housing, told City Council that the administration wants to tighten requirements for Harrisburg-based social service agencies seeking funding under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

“If we want to effectuate change, we’re going to need to change the way we do business,” she said.

In recent years, council has doled out relatively small amounts of CDBG money to a dozen or so specific service agencies. HUD, however, recently has questioned the way Harrisburg has distributed some of those funds, said Mayor Eric Papenfuse. Therefore, the city needs to make certain it strictly follows HUD guidelines, he said.

Specifically, agencies must show that a service is new or must demonstrate a “quantifiable increase in the level of service in the last 12 months,” said Dickinson. In addition, she said that HUD prefers to fund “senior enrichment programs or special needs populations.”

Moreover, the administration wants to change the funding structure for CDBG, which, this year, will total nearly $1.94 million, down a bit from last year’s pot of $2 million.

Under the current proposal, just $100,000 will be set aside for social service programming, down from about $240,000 last year. However, for facilities projects, agencies will be able to apply for money from a second bucket, one reserved for “public improvement/public facilities,” which totals $407,261, Dickinson said.

Papenfuse said that HUD didn’t like that, in the past, Harrisburg permitted facility improvements with money meant for “public service activities,” funds that were supposed be reserved for programming and other service activities.

The application process also is changing.

This year, the city will not determine recipients before submitting its action plan to HUD in mid-August. Specific recipients will be determined later through a request for proposals (RFP) process, which will be issued in late August, and applications will be scored to make sure they meet HUD guidelines, Papenfuse said.

“It’s a change in procedure, but it’s a good one,” he said. “It makes sure that every dollar we spend will be spent wisely.”

Other proposed CDBG allotments include:

  • $593,423 for debt service, as the city continues to pay down a federal loan it guaranteed under former Mayor Steve Reed for the disastrous Capitol View Commerce Center project
  • $387,670 for grant administration
  • $250,000 for homeowner rehabilitation
  • $200,000 for emergency demolition

In addition to the CDBG ordinance, council tonight introduced ordinances for the HUD Emergency Solutions Grant Program for $166,243, which mostly goes to the Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness to fund emergency shelter and rehousing, and another for HUD’s HOME Investment Partnerships Program for $432,187, which funds affordable housing solutions.

Now that council has introduced its ordinances, the public has 30 days to comment before council takes a final vote on them on Aug. 13. In addition, a public meeting will be held on July 31 at 6 p.m. at Hamilton Health Center.

Only one current CDBG recipient attended Tuesday’s meeting—Les Ford, executive director of the Heinz-Menaker Senior Center.

Following the meeting, Ford said he was unsure what to make of the proposed changes to the program. He said he was concerned that the funds allotted for “public service programs” had been cut from $240,000 to $100,000 under the administration’s proposal, leaving little for the city’s many service providers to split.

“I don’t even know if it’s worth applying for,” he said. “I need to get more information tomorrow. At this point, my head is spinning.”

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