02/27/12 — Grant funds available for housing work

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Grant funds available for housing work

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 27, 2012 1:46 PM

Grant money could be available for housing assistance for Wayne County through the Community Development Block Grant program and groups should contact county officials soon if they have proposed projects in mind.

No one from the public spoke at a public hearing held last week by country commissioners on the availability of the grant money.

Consultant David Harris of RSM Harris Associates told commissioners the state had money remaining from 2011 because of limited allocations last year. Some applications for the 2011 funding cycle are due in March, others in April. That will be followed shortly by the start of the 2012 cycle.

Harris said Wayne is due one automatic grant since its last was three years ago.

"As far as 2011, the one automatic grant that you are due is your standard scattered site housing assistance," Harris said. "Your last grant was in 2008. That has closed out. The three-year cycle was up in 2011. The county will be able to apply for $400,000 in scattered site housing assistance. We will be working with county agencies. Obviously, we have hundreds of applications on file. When this goes in the paper we will get a few hundred more."

Harris said the county will be working with its small towns since municipalities are not eligible to apply on their own, but do fall under the county's umbrella.

Goldsboro is not eligible since it already receives federal housing assistance, he noted.

"We will be sending notifications to the towns asking for their participation in the scattered site housing program," Harris said. "Applications are due at the end of March so at your second and only meeting in March we will conduct the second hearing for the recommendation that will actually come from a committee."

Criteria include low income and homeowners with special needs in terms of the elderly, handicapped or large family, Harris said. The objective will be to try and find the families with the greatest needs, including greatest housing need, he said. In some cases that means a house requiring major renovations or even replacement, he said.

The next category is the North Carolina Catalyst, formerly the Community Revitalization program, he said. The county has participated in the program before, Harris said.

"What it allows a unit of government to do is to apply for any of those eligible categories of funding and combine them in such a way that meets the county's needs," Harris said. "Our neighborhoods in the past, we always had to look at dirt streets, failing septic systems, substandard water lines or in some cases no water lines, very deteriorated housing, poor drainage. You would need that whole combination of needs in order to be competitive in the program."

Because of limited funding the state is allowing more flexibility in combing fewer categories, he said. The funding also can be used for scattered site housing.

However, no decision has been made as to whether a government could "double dip" by using the funds in conjunction with the scattered site housing program.

"With any of these categories this is an introductory public hearing," Harris said. "Anything that gets developed or recommended there would be a second public hearing which would be project specific activities, budget, location, houses, etc.

"The deadline for the 2011 Catalyst is the end of April. So in April you can anticipate having another public hearing. We can have a project presented to you. After that we will be in 2012 cycle. If we are unsuccessful in 2011, and the board so desires, we will go right back after it again."

The grants are "extremely competitive" and limited to one $500,000 application, he said.

Commissioner Steve Keen asked if the grants require local matches. The scattered site housing program does not, Harris said.

The language of the Catalyst program says a match is not acquired, but, "if you don't contribute money, you don't get it," Harris said.

Normally a 5-10 percent contribution "gets you into the ball game," he said.

Over the years, Wayne County has received millions of dollars in grant money while contributing about $80,000 in matching funds, said County Manager Lee Smith.

A percentage of that match is returned to the county on an annual basis -- money that the county has been setting aside to drawdown for a match, he said.

There is more than $50,000 in that account, meaning the millions of dollars in improvements have cost the county only about $30,000, he said.