Manhattan is moving forward with the creation of its five-year consolidated Community Development Block Grant plan, and will be getting additional federal funding for COVID-19 response.
City Commissioners Tuesday via ZOOM discussed priorities for the federal CDBG grants intended to benefit low and moderate income residents and neighborhoods and allocated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Administration is anticipating funding in the $850,000 range.
The CDBG program provides funds for safe and suitable housing projects, improvements to the accessibility of housing as well as community infrastructure and services, and generally promote sustainable and viable communities.
Manhattan became an entitlement community in 2010 when the city population exceeded 50,000, meaning the city is allocated money yearly by HUD without needing to compete — it’s included in the federal budget cycle automatically and is distributed based on formulas that account for recipients’ number of residents that fall into the low and moderate income status.
Every five years, entitlement communities like Manhattan must complete a five-year strategic plan for the community as well as an analysis of impediments to fair housing and a plan for how they will include citizen participation in decisions surrounding the use of the money.
Additionally, every year Manhattan must create an action plan, which serves as the budget document for the year’s CDBG-funded projects.
Manhattan’s 2020 allocation will be nearly $560,000 and about $330,000 for pandemic response programs, reimbursements and creating or leasing new alternate care sites if needed — though the federal government has not approved exact guidelines for COVID-19 response fund use.
City administration is moving ahead with the plan as recommended by HUD, the process for which began prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, with the understanding that they will need to circle back and amend some of their plans for the funds. Community Development Director Eric Cattell says making the changes now could delay the process and the subsequent release of funds.
“I don’t want to stop the funding,” says Commissioner Linda Morse. “[S]ocial services are going to be so critical here in the next two and three months.”
The current plan allocates about $181,000 to housing rehabilitation programs, $185,000 for improvements to public facilities and infrastructure, nearly $84,000 for social services — though the 15 percent limit has been rescinded in light of the pandemic — and $109,000 for administration costs, including the salary for the grant administrator, which cannot exceed 20 percent of the total funding.
“We know that we’re going to be reducing our administrative costs as much as we can,” says Cattell.
Due to the pandemic, though, Cattell says it is likely that two planned facility projects — relocating the Flint Hills Breadbasket cooler and improvements to infrastructure on the north half of Leavenworth and 5th Street — will not take place in this funding year and the money will be used for pandemic response.
That money would add to the $330,000 in CDBG money provided by the CARES Act, which Manhattan expects could arrive next month. Plans for the funds are still being worked out, as is the HUD guidelines for the use of the money, but tentative word from the federal government indicates it will be available to recoup COVID-19 response costs or to construct or lease additional medical facilities, testing sites or rehabilitation/quarantine sites. Leasing the 4 Points by Sheraton is being considered as an option for an alternate care site that would serve some of those purposes.
Mayor Pro Tempore Wynn Butler advocated leasing facilities instead of building new ones in the short-term and proposed directing the funds toward securing testing sites and acquiring necessary kits and gear to rapidly test community members for COVID-19.
“If we could get enough of those, we test everybody in the fire department so they can get back to more business as usual,” says Butler. “We do the same thing to public works, the health workers, the hospital and work on down the chain and target this money toward something like that which would have massive impact on our ability to handle the virus.”
City Manager Ron Fehr says the lack of availability of tests could be a roadblock in that initiative. Commissioner Aaron Estabrook, though, says other federal funds are being made available for community testing and health purposes. He says using CDBG dollars to buy tests would take away from long-term assistance for those in financial or housing trouble due to rising unemployment rates.
“Shooting money into testing that can’t be used for housing later is something I would be very reluctant to do,” says Estabrook, though he agreed with using the funds to lease an alternate care site.
Butler says his priority is increasing testing capacity, and would approve sourcing revenue from other federal programs than CDBG if available.
Mayor Usha Reddi says “all options are on the table” going forward, but her priorities are assisting uninsured residents get testing first, supporting mental health services and helping with credit services for those struggling with rent.
“At least for this year and maybe next year […] we are in survival mode for these families,” says Reddi. “I can’t even think about re-doing a sidewalk as we try to get people back on their feet.”
Cattell says in light of the pandemic, HUD has allowed for virtual public comments on CDBG plans. Manhattan is currently in its 30 day public comment period, running until April 28. Residents may read more and submit comments or suggestions for use of CDBG dollars online at Cityofmhk.com/CDBG.
The plan will return to the commission for approval on May 5 and the plan must be submitted to HUD by May 15.