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City Beat: City offered HUD funds, but must hurriedly plan for their use

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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 to support those who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes. 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 structure didn’t sit right with Councilperson Angela Romine at council’s regular meeting Nov. 1.

“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 seeing 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 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 for a consultation process on how to spend the funds. “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 notification of its allocation of $3.8 million on Sept. 22.

The quickened planning calendar, which includes 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 entities OK the plan, funding would be put into action.

The funding is for the 2022 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.”

Other action items

  • Council authorized the issuance and sale of up to $3 million in taxable special obligation refunding bonds, Series 2021A. At the Oct. 18 council meeting, city Finance Director David Holtmann said the new money would refund bonds used to fund Springfield center city development, specifically for the Renew Jordan Creek project. The refunding bonds are expected to produce an annual savings of about 19% and $500,000 over the remaining term of the bonds.

Simpson noted at the time, “The fact that we’re able to refund them, take advantage of current market rates, I think is excellent. That saves the taxpayers a lot of money.”

Holtmann said he would be back in early 2022 with additional savings on callable sewer bonds for council to consider.

  • Council will vote on an annexation request of a 2-acre and 32-acre parcel in the 3200 block of North Mulroy Road on Nov. 15. They also will consider rezoning it to highway commercial from a suburban residence district. The move would clear the way for Cottle’s Range subdivision, as approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Council OK’d an annexation of 11.5 acres at 1644-1706 S. Zimmer Ave. (Farm Road 127) and 1721 S. West Bypass. The property owner, BiBi Investments and Development LLC, plans to seek a zoning change for the property from general commercial to general retail.

  • “If you like Thai food, you’ll love what’s going in there,” said Neale & Newman LLP attorney Nate Dunville, appearing before council on behalf of developers of a restaurant seeking a conditional use permit at 307 S. National Ave., in the Walnut Street Urban Conservation District. He did not disclose the restaurateur, but said she has a successful business in the district already.

Council will vote Nov. 15 on a conditional use permit for the proposed restaurant and for a car wash proposed for 3015 E. Sunshine St.

  • Council unanimously approved an ordinance amending the city’s Brownfields Program Revolving Loan Fund policies to increase program flexibility and adjust loan terms to reflect current lending conditions.

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