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Council to get HUD project proposal slate next month

City Council next month will consider whether to allocate $2 million in federal Department of Housing and Urban Development money for eight proposed programs and projects, many of them for housing and infrastructure improvements.

The slate of proposals — five of which would be paid for with Community Development Block Grants and three of which would be paid for with HOME Investment Partnership Program money — was crafted recently by then-City Manager Ken Decker, according to CDBG Manager Mary Johnson.

The slate was discussed Wednesday at a public hearing conducted by the city’s Department of Community Development, which took comments from one visitor that didn’t lead to changes.

The department is proposing to allocate $1.7 million in CDBG funds, including $120,000 in program income.

A project listed under public services includes:

– $98,700 for the Nehemiah Project to prepare meals.

Under public facilities and infrastructure improvements are:

– $500,000 for revitalization of curbs and sidewalks at the Altoona Housing Authority’s Fairview Hills family development.

– $300,000 for curbs and sidewalks on East Cherry Avenue.

– $200,000 for street reconstruction in low-to-moderate income areas.

Under housing rehabilitation:

– $343,000 for single family homeowner rehabilitation.

Under general administration:

– $192,000 to cover housing and community development administrative costs.

– $25,000 to cover fair housing administrative costs.

Under homeless strategy:

– $21,000 to pay for an accessible bedroom for a proposed new family shelter.

The department is proposing to allocate $329,000 in HOME funding as follows:

– $126,000 for rental property rehabilitation.

– $170,000 for upgrades at Improved Dwellings for Altoona’s Marian House Manor.

– $33,000 to cover administrative costs.

At least 70% of a municipality’s CDBG funding must go to help low-to-moderate income people.

No more than 15% of a municipality’s funding may go to public service projects and programs; no more than 30% may go to fixing slum and blight; and no more than 20% can go for administration, according to Johnson and Carl Fischer, deputy director of the department.

At least 15% of a municipality’s HOME funding must go for its designated Community Housing Development Organization, which in Altoona’s case is IDA; and no more than 10% may go to administration, they said.

Council is expected to approve the proposed slate of programs and projects May 10, Johnson said.

The city needs to submit the slate for approval to HUD by May 17.

While Decker proposed the funding slate this year, in past years, that was the province of the department.

One of Decker’s guiding principles in creating the slate this year was to favor larger projects, to minimize the amount of administrative work involved, he said.

That administrative work — paperwork or red tape — was generally as onerous for small projects as for large ones, so it made sense to have fewer, larger projects, Decker argued.

That logic is generally correct, Fischer said Wednesday. But it’s not necessarily correct in cases in which large projects are complex — for example with multiple contractors, as that generates additional paperwork, Johnson said.

Decker is no longer in charge, having been placed recently on paid administrative leave by council — for issues council has not explained, but which do not involve allegations of criminal wrongdoing, according to solicitor Tom Finn.

One major difference in the slate of CDBG projects this year is the absence of money for the city’s blighted structure demolition program.

The city recently allocated $165,000 in general-fund money to eliminate a backlog of blighted properties, complementing the remaining demolitions that will be done with last year’s CDBG allocation for that work.

Using general fund money, rather than CDBG money, eliminates the need to abide by bureaucratic requirements of the CDBG program that can lead to delays, which in turn can lead to further delays, due to notice requirements triggered when properties are sold at tax sale with blighted structures still standing on them, officials have said.

Following Decker’s departure, Johnson looked into amending the proposed CDBG slate to add money for demolitions, in case some need to be done under emergency pressure. But the CDBG program’s approval deadlines prevented that from happening, Johnson said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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