Sometimes the job was about building a single sidewalk in front of someone’s home. Sometimes it was about building an entire neighborhood.
Margene Swarts has been the official city guru when it comes to all things related to the city’s participation in the federal Community Development Block Grant and HOME funding programs.
Soon, the city will have to hang out a “guru wanted” sign. Swarts is retiring after working at City Hall for the last 33 years. Her last day on the job is Friday.
The CDBG and HOME programs primarily are focused on helping lower income homeowners or neighborhoods make improvements with federal dollars. Recently, the lighted pedestrian path that runs through Oread neighborhood and down to South Park, was constructed in large part with CDBG funds. To see an even bigger project, the federal funding was critical to the HAND Addition, a neighborhood of 30 below-market-rate homes built near 24th and Haskell more than a decade ago.
Between the CDBG and HOME programs, the city receives about $1.15 million a year in federal funding to address neighborhood and affordable housing issues. And some of those issues can be pretty localized. Neighborhood associations frequently apply for the money to fund everything from clean-up days to the salaries for neighborhood association coordinators.
Swarts said the job has involved becoming familiar with a litany of federal regulations, but she’s enjoyed it. “I feel like it has been a wonderful opportunity to work in the community,” Swarts said. “It definitely has been a way to meet a lot of great people.”
Swarts — who started as a building and code inspector with the city — held the title of assistant director of development services, which is the department that oversees everything from building permits to trash in yard complaints.
Scott McCullough, director of development and planning services, said the city is still working out a transition plan for how it will fill that position.
“We’re committed to keeping the service running smoothly,” McCullough said. “But Margene has been our local expert for a long time. There is just a tremendous amount of experience there.” Swarts said she and her husband plan to remain in the area during retirement.