Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg shakes up process of applying for federal housing funds

Harrisburg City Council on Tuesday night.

Harrisburg agreed on Tuesday to switch up the process of how it distributes its annual allocation of federal housing funds.

City Council unanimously passed ordinances that will substantially change how nonprofit organizations apply for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

Previously, community groups—called “sub-recipients”—applied for grants that were individually approved by council.

Now, the sub-recipients will have to respond to a “request for proposals” that is being issued by the city. All interested applicants then will have to attend a mandatory workshop on Sept. 10 at the city Public Works building and submit their final applications by Sept. 20.

Moreover, organizations will have to apply from two separate funding buckets.

Of the $1.94 million in total CDBG funding, the city is setting aside $100,000 for “public service activities,” which includes most programming activities. It then has allocated another $407,261 for “public improvement/public facilities,” which includes most facility and building projects.

In the past, funds for these activities had been combined into a single application process and source of funds. However, HUD recently instructed the city to separate operational projects from infrastructure projects.

“The primary reason for this change is so we can get those dollars separated properly,” said Franchon Dickinson, director of the city’s Building and Housing Department. “Nonprofits can apply for both public services and public facilities dollars, but have to apply separately.”

The city will favor applications that show that a service is new or has demonstrated a quantifiable increase in a level of service over the last 12 months, said Dickinson. In addition, she said that HUD prefers to fund senior enrichment programs or programs geared towards special needs populations.

Dickinson said that a scoring matrix will be used to judge applications and determine who will receive funding. City Council then will approve the contracts with the sub-recipients, said city Business Administrator Marc Woolley.

Other CDBG allotments included:

  • $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

Representatives from several social service agencies attended Tuesday’s meeting, speaking publicly to stress how important CDBG funds are for them.

“I hope the available funding will be such that it can help groups such as CRAM,” said Juanita Grant, director of Christian Recovery Aftercare Ministry (CRAM), which assists those recently released from prison. “We really do need that money. We really do need help to help the people in the community.”

Dickinson said that the city is now conducting a reconciliation of disbursals in recent years, matching allocations with expenditures. It’s possible, she said, that additional funds could be available following the results of that reconciliation.

Several council members complained that the allocation process this year started late and now seems rushed.

Dickinson primarily blamed HUD, which she said met with city officials only in June, leading to the unexpected change in process. She pledged that next year’s process would go more smoothly.

“We’ll be ready to go early,” she said. “We should be able to provide a timeline for next year by the end of this year.”

Council President Wanda Williams urged her to begin the 2020 process as soon as possible.

“I want to make sure next year that we have this information in front of us well before we vote,” she said.

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