COLUMBIA — Show-Me Central Habitat for Humanity has requested a total of $277,005 in Community Development Block Grant money from the city of Columbia, but city staff, the City Council and members of an advisory group have different ideas about the best use of the funds.
Habitat for Humanity has asked for $180,063 to build and install infrastructure for an affordable housing neighborhood in the Creasy Springs Ridge subdivision and for $96,942 toward the construction of a new ReStore, a store selling donated building materials, furniture and appliances.
"They're both good projects and will help low-income housing in the long run," Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Bill View said.
Members of the Community Development Commission recommended funding for the ReStore, but City Manager Bill Watkins liked the Creasy Springs housing project better and recommended the city put $101,000 toward the effort.
"I have a bias for using (Community Development Block Grant) money for projects that directly will expand low- and moderate-income housing, and I think between the two alternatives, the infrastructure proposal does that best," Watkins said.
He also took into account that Creasy Springs was Habitat for Humanity's highest priority.
The City Council will make the final decision at its Sept. 15 meeting, where it is scheduled to approve an overall budget for fiscal year 2009 after a final public hearing on the $297 million spending plan.
Habitat for Humanity hopes to eventually build 10 houses for low-income families in Creasy Springs Ridge. It has a contract to buy the subdivision, which is a foreclosed property, but it must build streets and install utilities such as water, sewer and lights before it can start building homes.
"Quite honestly, we were banking on city funds to do that," View said.
Habitat for Humanity also hopes to build a bigger ReStore, which funnels the profit it makes toward the construction of about two homes per year. The organization requested money for this project before but was denied. The organization hopes to build the new store next to its central office on Monroe Street. Some days, View can't even walk around the existing ReStore, which is also next to its office, because of the volume of materials and merchandise it holds. A bigger building, View said, could lead to more sales and, in turn, the construction of more houses.
"Our mission isn't to have a ReStore; it's to build low-income housing," View said.
After discussing the two projects at a Sept. 3 work session, Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku said the council was leaning toward the Creasy Springs request. He said he recognizes the long-term benefits of the ReStore, but he wants to build homes more quickly than profits from the store would allow.
"I was in favor of building the houses at Creasy Springs," he said. "I think there's a need for affordable housing."
First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz sees merit in both projects and hopes the city can find other sources of support for the ReStore.
View said Habitat for Humanity applies for Community Development Block Grants as a means of helping the city meet its goals for improving low-income neighborhoods and creating affordable housing.
View sees the city and the organization as partners, given that the city is required to spend a percentage of Community Development Block Grant money on affordable housing and that Habitat for Humanity is willing to spend the time and effort into building it.
View said, without city funding, it might be 10 years before Habitat for Humanity could start on the Creasy Springs project. If it wins the grant money, it could start on infrastructure right away.
The ReStore, View said, could be built in five years without city money.
Although View said he might make a plea to the council for full funding of the Creasy Springs project, he'll be satisfied with any decision it makes.
"We'll accept any funds they decide to give to us and be glad to get them," he said.
The Community Development Block Grants come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund projects benefiting low-to moderate-income neighborhoods. For fiscal year 2009, Columbia is expecting $840,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds. Applications are filed under four categories: housing programs; public improvements; community, facilities, services and economic development; and administration and planning.
Other housing project applicants include the city's Neighborhood Response Team. It requested $75,000 for demolition and code enforcement, but the Community Development Commission and Watkins recommended only $35,000. The city is also seeking $50,000 for its housing rehabilitation program, but both Watkins and the commission recommended $58,000.