Archive for Wednesday, May 13, 1992

EFFECTIVENESS

May 13, 1992

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For more than a decade, it has paid for sidewalk repairs, spruced up neighborhoods and floated funds to help low-income residents fix up their homes. But it's not doing as much as it used to, says a city official.

While Lawrence's share of federal dollars from the Community Development Block Grant program has stayed in the same ballpark since the program began in 1975, inflation has cut into the program's buying power.

"I expect it amounts to a practical cut in funding," said Lynn Goodell, director of the city's community development department. "We can't do as much as we used to with the same amount of dollars."

For example, look at the money used for housing rehabilitation, Goodell said. "For what we could do with $12,000 when we first started, we do for $16,000 now," he said.

MATERIALS and labor costs have escalated, as well as administrative costs for the program. "If you budget the same amount every year, we end up doing less," Goodell said.

The story is the same nationally. The program's funding last year, $2.2 billion, was precisely the same as when it was created in 1975, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The city received $704,000 from the program this year, which falls between the high of $839,000 in 1980 and the low of $529,000 per year from 1975 through 1977.

The funds are issued by HUD each year to about 900 city and county development offices. A 17-member CDBG advisory board handles funding requests for the city.

Lawrence city commissioners gave preliminary approval Tuesday to the board's recommendations for more than $800,000 in CDBG projects. The dollars available for 1992 total $804,000, which includes funds left over from last year.

THE PURPOSE of the program is to stem urban blight, Goodell said. It helps provide quality housing for people living on low or moderate incomes and also funds programs designed to help poor families.

The federal dollars also are used for capital improvements, such as sidewalk and street repairs.

The primary concern of the program is assistance to low and moderate income homeowners, said Goodell. For example, the city's advisory committee suggested allotting $300,000 this year for housing rehabilitation loans.

The loans go toward improving or replacing the essential features of a home, such as the foundation, plumbing and electrical systems. The loans also can help finance a new coat of paint.

Other funds are used for weather-proofing homes and replacing furnaces.

With the federal funds buying less and less, the city ends up devoting fewer dollars to capital improvements, Goodell said.

He also must deal with a 20 percent cap on administrative and planning costs while inflation eats into the relatively constant funding. "We can manage, but not easily," Goodell said.

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