The city of Springfield has been granted $3.8 million in Home-American Rescue Plan funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but a backwards process makes one councilperson reluctant to accept it.
Council will vote on whether to accept the federal funds at its Nov. 15 meeting, but the governing body will not be able to approve a specific plan for spending the money until early 2022 because of the way the grant is structured, according to Bob Jones, grants administrator with the city’s Planning and Development department.
That didn’t sit right with Councilperson Angela Romine at Monday’s regular meeting.
“I’m more apt to be happy to vote yes on initiating a grant when we see a plan, so that way we know what success looks like,” she said.
Romine said without knowing a plan in advance, it is impossible to know if the city can meet the goals of the grant program.
“I’m concerned about saying yes and not having a solid plan and the money just gets spent willy-nilly,” she said.
Jones agreed the process is very unusual.
“HUD came out this time and said, ‘Here’s your grant,’” he said, noting that grant recipients were instructed to use some administrative funds now to do the consultation process. “They know it’s a burden, the way they have developed this.”
According to the explanation of the council bill prepared by city staff, while the American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law on March 11, HUD did not issue regulations and guidance on its new Home-ARP grant program until Sept. 13, and the city received the notification of its allocation of $3.8 million on Sept. 22.
The quickened planning calendar, which include a round of consultations with nonprofit agencies to be completed by Christmas, would result in council being asked to approve a firmed-up plan for the use of the funds in early 2022. Approval by HUD would follow, and then, if both the city and HUD OK the plan, funding would be put into action.
The funding is for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2022.
The grant is meant to assist specific populations: those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless; those who are attempting to flee domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, stalking or human trafficking; and families who need housing assistance to prevent homelessness or instability.
Grant use is limited to six types of activities: grant administration and planning, rental housing development, tenant-based rental assistance, supportive services for qualifying populations, non-congregate shelter acquisition and development, and nonprofit agency operating expenses or capacity building assistance related to Home-ARP activities.
Jones said discussions with local agencies are a crucial part of the process.
“The biggest part will be the consultation with the nonprofit agencies that are dealing with the homeless so that they can focus in,” he said.
City Manager Jason Gage reminded council the city was invited to apply for $2 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding to expand services to homeless people. Council approved the application at its Aug. 9 meeting.
“That’s up to $5.8 million that we talked about between the two before that could be applied to homeless needs in our community,” Gage said.
Councilperson Matthew Simpson noted that combining the two grants and coordinating the spending between them would allow the city to maximize the impact of the funding.
Jones said, “That’s something that is a real possibility in this.”
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