Federal cuts limit city’s housing support

Columbia officials expect funding to continue to drop.
Sunday, January 22, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:28 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A cut in federal funding has forced the city to change eligibility requirements for three programs that provide financial aid for home renovations and purchases.

The changes, which are reflected in the city’s Five-Year Consolidated Plan, are part of the Columbia Planning and Development Department’s restructured priorities that took effect Jan. 1. The consolidated plan outlines department goals for addressing affordable housing needs and other public projects.

Programs affected are the Emergency Home Repair Program, the city’s Home Ownership Assistance Program and the Owner Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Program.

The Emergency Home Repair Program is funded by Community Development Block Grant, while the other two programs are financed primarily through Home Ownership Made Easy funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Tom Lata, community development coordinator for the Planning and Development Department, said the repair program will suffer cuts, while funding for the home ownership and rehabilitation programs will be restructured.

“Our funding was being cut by HUD,” Lata said. “(The changes) didn’t have to do as much with the plan as targeting our most needy population. This is probably the biggest cut they’ve made in a long time.”

Even though Lata said the current five-year plan is in effect, the budget won’t be final until the Housing and Urban Development Department approves it. Lata said that might take a few months.

“We don’t have a letter from HUD approving our plan, and now that we know we are getting a bit less money, we have to go back to the (City) Council to reapprove the plan,” he said.

The city’s budget for fiscal year 2006 called for $950,000 in Community Development Block Grant money and $700,000 from the Home Ownership Made Easy program. On Friday, Lata learned that the city will receive $862,000 in block grant money and $605,000 in Home Ownership Made Easy funds. Even though the latter took a big cut, Lata said funds remaining from last year are available for the rehab and home ownership programs.

Of the Community Development Block Grant money, $60,000 is slated to go toward the Emergency Home Repair Program. Lata said that program has already suffered from previous cuts and had to limit aid to households below 60 percent of the median income. Lata said a study last year determined households above that threshold should be able to finance home repairs themselves.

The department is whittling the budget for emergency repairs to $60,000 as a precaution after demand in 2004 exceeded the budgeted amount by 25 percent. The city spent $95,922 in 2004. Vicki Turner, housing programs coordinator for the Planning and Development Department, said the budget could drop below $60,000 if Housing and Urban Development cuts are greater than expected.

“We’d love to serve everyone, but when you start making cuts, you have to make cuts,” Turner said. “There just isn’t enough money.”

Turner said the city’s Home Ownership Assistance Program, run by the not-for-profit Enterprise Development, won’t suffer much from the cuts. The program helps people buy their first homes. It will no longer aid single-person households that are neither elderly or disabled and above 60 percent of the median income living outside an area bound by Old 63, Stadium Boulevard and Broadway.

Performance measures listed in the 2006 budget show that about two dozen people a year tap the Emergency Home Repair and Home Ownership Assistance programs, while about 20 receive rehabilitation grants for owner-occupied homes.

Turner, who has been working with the city planning department since 1985, said Housing and Urban Development funding has dropped gradually since a high in the mid-1990s and expects more to come.

Lata said funding changes for the Owner Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Program will be minimal, however, a new 100-point rating system will allow the city to extend aid beyond Community Development Block Grant areas and focus its efforts on seniors and people with disabilities who have low incomes.

Lata said the program is still making the transition from the previous system, which involved three waiting lists of descending priority. List One included households within block grant areas and List Two tallied homes outside those areas. List Three included households that already have been helped.

“If you are on List Two or Three, forget it,” Lata said. “We have people on List Two that have been on it for three years. If you’re outside the eligibility area, forget it. List Three is the same.”

The new system could dilute funds previously concentrated in priority areas, which include much of the central and northeast sections of the city, as well as the East Campus area.

East Campus Neighborhood Association president Cavanaugh Noce said residents there have pursued significant home renovations the past eight years, but he doesn’t know how many of those projects were funded by the city.

“If they did make it a point system, obviously I hope that those in the most need get it no matter where they live,” Noce said. “And hopefully (the city) will address the fund issue if it is diluted.”

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