City seeks citizen participation in survey on affordable housing

Monday, January 2, 2012 | 4:35 p.m. CST; updated 2:54 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 3, 2012

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article included erroneous information about an application for Community Development Block Grant funds from the Office of Cultural Affairs. The office has not applied for the funds.

COLUMBIA — A survey to look at affordable housing issues in Columbia has been put online to help the city get feedback about how it uses federal funding. 

The survey is part of the Citizen Participation Plan, which seeks input from the public on how to use federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funds. This is the second time Columbia has conducted the survey.

CDBG/HOME existing programs

The city allocates CDBG and HOME federal funds to the following activities. All funded programs must benefit lower-income households. 

  • Owner Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Program: Provides loans for up to $35,000, usually due on title transfer, depending upon ability to pay, to bring homes up to a housing rehabilitation standard, including making homes lead safe and more energy efficient. 
  • Emergency Repair Program: Provides a grant of $500 and additional loans of up to $4,500 to owner-occupants to eliminate an immediate threat to the health and safety of the occupant or to the home itself.  
  • Code Deficiency Abatement Program: Provides similar assistance to the Emergency Repair Program, but it also provides assistance for exterior code violations only and is only available in neighborhoods that are part of the Neighborhood Response Team Area.
  • Dilapidated Housing Demolition Program: Provides funds to property owners seeking to demolish homes that are beyond repair and have been vacant for at least 12 months. 
  • Rental Production Program: Provides loans to property owners and other agencies to help develop newly constructed housing for special needs populations or substantial rehabilitation of homes for any lower-income populations. The Section 811 Program provides HUD funding for the construction and operation of housing for special needs populations. 
  • Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program: A program to provide rental assistance for households that are homeless or near homeless and are being provided case management services through a supportive services providers. The program is only available to those with special needs.
  • Senior Home Repair Program: Provides grants to very low-income owner-occupants 55 years of age or older for home repairs.         
  • RAMP Program, Accessibility Improvements: Provides grants to construct ramps and other accessibility improvements in housing occupied by persons with physical disabilities.
  • Homeownership Assistance Program: Provides up to $5,000 for down payment assistance and eligible closing costs in the form of a forgivable loan to persons purchasing their first home.
  • Neighborhood Development Homeownership Assistance Program: Provides up to $30,000 in homebuyer assistance to help persons purchase new or substantially rehabilitated homes in the Neighborhood Response Team area. 
  • NRT Demolition Program with Voluntary Acquisition: Includes an additional activity beginning in 2011 to allow a property owner that no longer desires to own a dilapidated building in the Neighborhood Response Team Area to sell the property to the city for redevelopment and land banking purposes.
  • Micro-Loan Program: Provides very small loans and supportive services to lower-income persons to help them start a small business. 
  • Homeless Day Center: Would provide meals and various supportive services for homeless persons but would not provide shelter services. There is not a full service day center in Columbia.

"In the public hearing, maybe we only get one or two people to comment, but if we get a survey, we can get more public input into the process," former Community Development Coordinator Thomas Lata said.

The survey will be available until Feb. 17.

On Tuesday before its meeting, the City Council will discuss problems with affordable housing in the city.

Lata designed, gathered and analyzed the first survey last year. Since he retired three months ago, the new coordinator, Randy Cole, is handling the survey, which has been tweaked according to recommendations from some city volunteer commissions.

Cole said 27 responses were received last year, and he hopes to get 100 responses this year by reaching out to neighborhood associations. He also appeared on a KOPN radio show to promote it.

Every year, the city receives grants from two HUD programs, the Community Development Block Grant Program and the HOME Program. These funds are distributed to several local agencies that try to provide money for affordable housing, infrastructure, job training and other services.

"Everything we do helps low-income people," Lata said.

Although the agency is looking for online responses to the survey, some feedback on how the money is used has been gathered from public meetings.

Justin Thomas, a graduate student at MU's Rural Sociology Department, said some of the money might not help those most in need.

He questioned the proportion of money spent on training and administration for the program and said that might not address some of the fundamental social problems in the city.

He also said that the money spent on sidewalks along Worley Street should be funded locally and not taken from the federal funds meant to primarily address affordable housing.

*To try and receive more comments about how this money is spent, the city keeps a community development Listserv with about 180 names on it. This is also part of the Citizen Participation Plan.

The responses from last year's survey have been taken into account by the Community Development Commission while planning the second phase construction of Worley Street sidewalks, Cole said.

Lata said the city’s biggest problem is affordable housing.

The generally accepted definition of "affordability" is for a household to pay no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing, according to the HUD website. In Columbia more than 70 percent of households pay more than this each month.

Lata said the Development Commission is frustrated by cuts in federal funding. According to the HUD website, the HOME program was cut by 12 percent and the block grant program was cut 21 percent.

"There are not enough other funds to take its place," Lata said.

One local effort that is being affected is the Interfaith Day Center, 616 Park Ave. The one-bedroom center provides those who are homeless with food, showers, medical assistance, job training and a place to stay from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, the day center's treasurer Brent Lowenberg said.

He said anywhere from 20 to more than 40 people come to the center on every week day.

Steve Hollis, manager of the Division of Human Services for the Boone County/Columbia Department of Public Health and Human Services, hopes to keep the center open 24/7. That plan is in the early stages and limited money has prevented it from moving forward.

The overall amount of money Columbia receives for Community Development Block Grant funds and the HOME program is based on Census Bureau information. The 2010 American Community Survey, conducted by the Census Bureau, measures several statistics related to housing and determines how much federal money Columbia will receive.

If the economic recession is also taken into account, the city will receive an estimated $803,332 through the block grant program and $459,545 in HOME funding.

A Community Development Commission public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11, and Cole hopes more people like Thomas can give their suggestions to the commission.

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Ray Shapiro January 3, 2012 | 3:40 p.m.

I guess Regency Trailer Park was not "affordable-living" enough.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 3, 2012 | 5:31 p.m.

Congratulations to reporter Mengni Yang and to the "other side" of the argument she quotes in this article, Justin Thomas, a graduate student at MU's Rural Sociology Department.

This is the first time in months, if not a couple of years, that I've seen a local newspaper story not simply reporting the establishment line about a story, and actually moving beyond just the sole source junk I too often see -- the city manager said, the County Commissioner said, etc., with no other opposing or balancing views.

Not only that, but Mr. Thomas "gets it" -- the idea that City Hall is cannibalizing too much of these Federal grants for its own purposes (they'll be charging big admin fees for this "survey" no doubt).

And that the money to fix central city infrastructure needs to come from local coffers that don't have to wait for Federal grants before projects get done. "Let them eat grants," is my sarcastic retort to this insidious practice of using grants instead of local taxes to fund central city basic services.

Good reporting, Mengni!

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush January 3, 2012 | 11:39 p.m.

If corporations
Paid living wages, housing'd
Be affordable.

(Report Comment)
Gerald Shelnutt January 4, 2012 | 3:34 a.m.

Ahhh if it were as simple as raising wages.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 4, 2012 | 6:39 a.m.

"If the fox
hadn't stopped
To scratch
His behind,
He'd have caught
The rabbit."

-Old Shannon County, Missouri saying

PS: The four corporations I worked for each paid more than a "living wage." Some of us are pleased there have been and continue to be corporations to work for. What's wonderful about working for the feds?

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush January 4, 2012 | 9:14 a.m.

Back in my day we
Called condescension vapid

Times have changed. Think of
The examples you've set. Why
Should one model that?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 5, 2012 | 7:18 a.m.

[To the tune of "Missouri Waltz"]

When it's springtime in the Arctic
And it's forty-four below.
All the Inuit dance barefoot
In the ever-drifting snow.
And polar bears get sunburned
And lose all their hair.
When it's springtime in the Arctic
We will change our underwear.

Note that the Inuit dance; they do not perpetually whine.

(Report Comment)

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