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City to dole out HUD funds

Not long ago, the Center for Independent Living of South Central Pennsylvania received a call from a car crash victim who now uses a wheelchair, asking for help to make home modifications so the victim could continue to live independently.

The organization sifted its options and ultimately helped him get private funding to build a ramp, according to CIL Assistant Director Marty Dombrowski.

Dombrowski on Wednesday was optimistic that her organization will soon be able to offer that kind of funding itself, after attending the city’s first hearing on its upcoming fiscal year’s allocation of Community Development Block Grant and Home Investment Partnership Program money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The city expects to have $1.6 million in CDBG money and $306,000 in HOME funds for the fiscal year that begins July 1, city officials explained to Dombrowski and representatives of two other agencies interested in obtaining funds.

There’s more money this year for projects not usually funded through CDBG, because in the middle of the current fiscal year, the city shifted two traditional in-house recipient programs to the general fund — the police bike patrol, which was eligible for CDBG money only when working in low- to- moderate income neighborhoods and the code officer assigned to those same areas, so that administering those programs would be easier.

The shift of the bike patrol freed up $210,000, while the shift of the code officer program freed up $66,000.

The transfer of the bike patrol program was especially significant, because that program had absorbed almost all the CDBG funds in the public service category, which is limited to 15 percent of all the money available for a given year.

To use the 2018 public service money freed up by the bike patrol shift, the city allocated $31,000 to help residents remove street trees that were leaning into the right-of-way on Seventh and Eighth streets and to repair the sidewalk sections the tree roots had lifted; $28,000 for the fire department to inspect homes in qualifying areas for fire safety problems and to provide smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers; and $7,500 for a youth empowerment program at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, according to CDBG Manager Mary Johnson.

The tree expenditure won’t need to be repeated, according to Lee Slusser, the city’s community development director.

It’s not certain whether there will be requests for renewal of the fire department and Mount Zion programs, according to Johnson.

Regardless, there should be money for new programs, they indicated.

Dombrowski’s CIL should be a prime candidate for regular, nonpublic-service CDBG funding, as one of the qualifying purposes for the program is “removal of architectural barriers” through installation of ramps, widening of doorways, installation of elevators and other accessibility modifications, according to a document provided at the meeting.

The rationale for such eligibility is the automatic designation of people with disabilities as tantamount to low to moderate-income, which is the prime eligibility requirement of the entire program, according to Johnson.

The Center for Independent Living gets calls “all the time” from “consumers” who already receive agency services and from others who don’t, requesting modifications so they can live on their own, Dombrowski said.

“We’re all about independent living,” she stated.

She’s not sure how much the agency might request form the program, she said.

UPMC Altoona Director of Behavioral Health Diana Packech attended the meeting for information that could help her program — formerly under the Home Nursing Agency — obtain money to provide additional housing for a special population of low-income individuals and families.

Her program already runs the Blair House, the Juniata House and the Tartaglio Personal Care Home, all in Altoona, all serving that special population, Packech said.

Terry Figart, a member of the Court Appointed Special Advocate Association in Cambria County, attended to get information on funding that could help start a CASA program in Blair County.

CASA is a nonprofit whose volunteers interact with abused children and with those who interact with those children so they can advise judges in custody cases how best to place the kids.

Current President Judge Elizabeth Doyle is interested, Figart said.

One potential obstacle to CDBG funding for CASA is Figart’s desire for the program to serve all of Blair versus the need for the funding to serve only residents of the city, Johnson said.

It might be workable, however, if he can ensure the funding goes only to eligible cases, she said.

Dombrowski called the city officials “super, super helpful,.”

“I came away very encouraged,” she said.

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