Providing money to neighborhood associations in some of Lawrence's poorer areas of town is a good investment, city commissioners were told Thursday.
"This has been one of the ways we have been able to stabilize some of our neighborhoods," said Marci Francisco, a state senator who also serves on the city's Neighborhood Resources Advisory Commission. "These neighborhood associations have really fostered a sense of community and an ability to know your neighbors that I don't think would have existed otherwise."
For the most part, city commissioners agreed, but said they want further discussion about how the city chooses to spend about $1.5 million in federal funding it receives for neighborhood and housing issues.
About $40,000 of the city's allocation from the Department of Housing and Urban Development goes to employ coordinators and pay for operational expenses of five neighborhood associations that qualify for federal money because of their average income levels: Brook Creek, East Lawrence, North Lawrence, Oread and Pinckney.
At a study session with the Neighborhood Resources Advisory Commission, city commissioners said they still supported the neighborhood association funding. But commissioners said they want to start seeing more evidence the funding is producing tangible results.
Commissioners told members of the advisory board to start requiring all applicants for the money - which also includes social service agencies such as The Salvation Army, Independence Inc. and Habitat for Humanity - to produce specific, result-oriented goals they should meet to continue to receive funding.
For example, neighborhoods might make goals of reducing the number of blighted homes in the area, or cleaning a certain number of blocks of sidewalks.
Neighborhood association leaders who attended the meeting said they were fine with the new standards.
"I think they are positive changes," said K.T. Walsh, a member of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. board. "I think we all should be able to point to changes that we've made that have improved our neighborhoods."
Other changes discussed by the commission may not go over as well. Commissioners discussed - but reached no consensus - whether the city should try to use the federal money to do larger projects, which would mean fewer groups and organizations receive funding.
"I think sometimes we do try to spread the help around a lot, and we sometimes undercapitalize it and never really get to the heart of the problem," Mayor Mike Amyx said.
For example, the city this year spread its $1.5 million allocation among 17 neighborhoods or organizations. That's in contrast to a strategy that would have the city invest a large majority of the money into a single affordable housing project or a program to aggressively reduce blight in a particular neighborhood.
Walsh said she would have concerns about any changes that would make it more difficult for neighborhood associations to receive funding.
"Our five target neighborhoods are fragile," Walsh said. "Even to go one year without funding would be very dangerous."
Margene Swarts, the city's community development manager, told commissioners that next year's allocations likely won't provide any increased flexibility. Swarts said the city likely again would receive $1.5 million in federal funding, or slightly less depending on how many cities are included in the Community Development Block Grant program.