Priorities remain an issue in CDBG fundingA Superior group is finding it's more difficult to get Community Development Block Grant money.
By: By DANIELLE KAEDING / Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Radio
A Superior group wants to bring back money to fix up rental apartments for low-income people but like many social agencies, they’re finding it more difficult to get money from the city when it decides on how to hand out federal community block grant money next month.
The Superior City Council is set to approve the amount of grant money given to public service organizations and the city on July 1.
Superior Mayor Dave Ross says Community Development Block Grant money should be used primarily for community development.
“Prior to my getting in office five years ago, the dollars were spent on certain specific needs that have only been referenced to you know a very small group of people, such as rental rehab or single family rehab,” he said. “That
didn’t benefit the community in broader terms because we have some incredible needs that go clear cross the community that could benefit everyone in this community.”
Among them, Ross says, is a need for sidewalk repair. Even so, Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency Director Millie Rounsville says programs like rental rehab benefit more than a small group in the community.
“For us, affordable housing is a huge issue-trying to move people into better paying jobs, but also trying to be able to find a place that’s safe and accessible,” she said. “Lead paint tends to be a huge issue in a lot of our housing stock that we’ve got here, and rehab even for homeowners. There’s a lot of low- to moderate-income homeowners, as well as senior citizens that might need some adaptations made to their house.”
Ross says the city can’t please everyone where CDBG money is concerned.
“Someone has to set the priorities, and, in this case, not everyone is going to be happy with what the priority is but we think we need to work continually on infrastructure,” he said.
The city is planning to spend more than $200,000 of the $1 million-plus grant money on sidewalk repair and replacement.
Partly because of that, and reduced CDBG money from the federal government, Superior groups realize the pickings are slim.
Superior has seen Community Block Grants gradually go down in the past few years. Lake Superior Community Health Center Director Wendy Nelson says the need for services is increasing while funding is decreasing.
“You know, public service is an area that deals with people primarily in poverty,” she said. “The economy of the country, the various needs that people have in terms of health care, the lack of health insurance or need for
shelter-those needs are increasing. So, the number of requests that go into CDBG for public service has steadily gone up. So, there’s only a certain amount of the pie to be divided up.
No more than 15 percent of block grants can go toward public service organizations. Mayor Ross says the city is forced to deal with problems originating at the state and federal level.
“Washington and Madison have been misspending their budgets year after year,” he said. “They’re doing heavy deficit spending. They’re cost-shifting from one budget year to the next. I only see that the economic pressure on
state and federal governments is only going to get worse. I don’t care what the politicians say. I haven’t heard one of them stand up and talk about reducing the amount of dollars and indebtedness, which will later rob us of the funds that will fund programs like CDBG.”
Nelson admires the city for trying to make the best of a bad situation.
“The difficulty that the committee and the city councils face is that all of the applications that come in for human service needs are great needs,” she said. “There’s no question about it. I think how they determine who they’re going to fund at which level is a very complicated and very difficult process that includes past performance by the organization, whether or not it has a strong track record of meeting its goals and objectives and whether or not the need is one of the high priority areas in the plan.”
The city council votes the CDBG action plan following a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. July 1 in Room 201 of the Government Center.