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Community Development Block Grant advocates hope to hold off cuts

| Monday, April 7, 2014, 3:41 a.m.

As McKeesport readies its Community Development Block Grant action plan, advocates are readying efforts to hold off cuts in the program.

“CDBG funding is vital to our efforts to rebuild and revitalize our communities,” Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., wrote last week to four key colleagues.

Casey wants an increase in the funding provided through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“This program provides essential resources to over 1,200 entitlement cities, urban counties and states across the country,” Casey wrote to Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Vice Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., as well as Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, of the subcommittee that oversees HUD.

“CDBG funding can help finance many activities including housing rehabilitation, infrastructure improvements, and home ownership assistance,” Casey wrote.

HUD handed out $3.03 billion for the fiscal year that began March 1, including $948,989 for McKeesport.

“They allow us to pay for municipal leases or equipment,” McKeesport Community Development Director Alfred J. Tedesco Jr. said. “Some funds also go to rodent control. A portion goes to neighborhood preservation,” including two ordinance officers (down from three) and building inspector Chris House.

Nearly $12.65 million will go to Allegheny County, which distributes its money to the councils of governments for such purposes as cleaning up brownfields and aiding street paving and emergency demolition.

“These funds are absolutely critical to Allegheny County,” Allegheny County Economic Development Director Dennis Davin said. “We've received right around $12 million in the last couple of years. That is down significantly from a high point of $19 million, which was about nine to 10 years ago.”

It has has its impact.

“It is a fraction of what the demand is,” Davin said. “We are always oversubscribed. There are so many needs.”

President Obama would cut CDBG funding in his budget for fiscal 2015 to $2.8 billion.

For fiscal 2014 Obama proposed a reduction to $2.79 billion but Congress approved a slight increase from $3 billion in fiscal 2013.

“In a lot of cases in these areas the only (other) way to raise money is to raise taxes and they can't do that,” Davin said.

“It would cripple the city to lose close to a million dollars,” Tedesco said.

Starting on Monday city officials will display a hard copy of their plan for the $948,989 CDBG as well as $161,529 in HOME Consortium funds used to assist efforts to provide affordable housing.

Tedesco said the plan should be available shortly thereafter on the city's website. A public hearing about those funds is scheduled May 6 at 6:30 p.m. in city council chambers.

“With the political climate and the elections, I don't see it increasing, but we are still thankful for what we do get,” Tedesco said of a block grant that is down from $972,757 last year.

Funding has been on a downswing for decades. Staffers in the community development office recall a time when McKeesport received $2.5 million.

As recently as fiscal 2011 the city was getting $1.2 million.

Tedesco said, “I know that Sen. Casey has a lot of clout in D.C. and he is very well thought of and respected by the administration and by his colleagues. We're very hopeful that (his appeal) is going to be heard and acted upon.”

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.