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Counties depend on CDBG dollars

| Saturday, March 26, 2005

Merging the state's CDGB program with other programs nationwide would set back local revitalization efforts, said Andrew French, executive director of the Fayette County Redevelopment Authority.

"Countywide, we've constructed hundreds of miles of waterlines and sanitary sewer lines with this funding," said French, noting that Fayette receives about $2.5 million a year from the Community Development Block Grant program.

"We've rehabbed about 1,400 homes. None of that would have happened without this type of support."

The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides money for the program, which is designed to help low- and moderate- income communities with certain types of construction and rehabilitation projects.

President Bush wants the program to be combined with 17 other community development programs that he declared to be unnecessary duplications of other program.

A new program - Strengthening America's Communities - would be created.

The new program would focus on economic development and job creation and would receive about $2 billion less than the existing programs.

French said consolidation potentially would lead to an 11 percent cut in HUD's budget, which would decrease the pool of money now available through the CDBG program.

"When they categorized (CDBG) as a nonperforming program, that came as a surprise to us because we're here on a local level every day working with these projects," he said. "It has tremendous value for these communities."

French said he is concerned that smaller communities will get overlooked for larger, big city projects if all of the grant-seekers are thrown into a competitive pool.

French said he attended a legislative conference in Washington, D.C., earlier in the month with about 60 other housing authority officials.

French said he was told some state representatives are urging the government to avoid tampering with CDBG money.

"I think we've got bipartisan support opposing elimination of the CDBG program," he said.

"We've got to be vigilant during this entire process, but it's good to see that they support it up front.

"We think that it's critical to fully fund CDBG, but is that going to be at the expense of other community and housing programs that we administer• We don't know what's going to happen."

Bill Mitchell, an assistant director with the Westmoreland County Redevelopment Authority, who oversees the county's annual $5 million CDBG allotment, said the program is vital for the local municipalities and nonprofit organizations.

"If it goes away, it would definitely impact the low- and moderate income communities severely," Mitchell said.

Washington County receives approximately $5 million annually in CDBG money, according to Brenda B. Williamson, community development director for the redevelopment authority.

The county uses CDBG money for eligible activities that benefit low- and moderate-income residents, prevent or eliminate slums or blight, or meet other urgent community development needs.

For a project to qualify, a majority of residents in the targeted area must earn no more than 80 percent of the area median income.

CDBG dollars are rarely used for projects of urgent need.

However, the money can be used to alleviate serious and immediate threats to the health and welfare if the community is unable to finance the activity on its own and other revenue sources are not available.

An example of an eligible urgent need activity would be damage caused by a natural disaster, Williamson said.

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