CDBG Projects: ‘Think Big Picture’

The city of Jamestown must re-examine how it uses its Community Development Block Grant and HOME program funding.

Vince DeJoy’s first time through the process as development director and JURA executive secretary is a perfect time to do just that.

For years, the CDBG program has been a place development officials could pay for programs the city itself couldn’t afford. Projects are eligible for funding as long as the program meets one of three general program requirements, making the programs generally unrestricted and useful for local governments. As long as the city’s plan spends at least 70 percent of CDBG money for low-to-moderate-income benefit activities and no more than 30 percent in slums and blighted areas, most projects are fair game.

Jamestown used to receive more than $2 million a year in CDBG and HOME funding, but those days are long gone. CDBG and HOME funding has dwindled over the last 10 years to its lowest levels in program history – and that was before federal sequester cuts carved a little bit more from the program.

Those funding cuts mean DeJoy’s job won’t be easy. The city’s low-income neighborhoods need the money provided in the city’s low-to-moderate income rental rehabilitation programs. Downtown needs the influx of funding from the downtown facade program. There are many crumbling homes and commercial buildings that need to be knocked down or fixed. There are hundreds of low-income property owners who could benefit from the citywide owner-occupied rehabilitation fund.

Jamestown’s problem is made worse because it doesn’t have the means in the city budget to take over CDBG programs or initiate new programs. Employee salaries and benefits take up so much of the city’s budget there are only scraps left for anything else. Projects some cities can afford in their general fund budgets have found their way into previous CDBG allocations in Jamestown because CDBG was the only way to fund such programs.

Recent suggestions from the public for CDBG money include improvements to Lillian Dickson Park, high-visibility crosswalks or Legislator Tim Hoyer’s proposal for a largely vehicle-free downtown. All were included as requests in the recent CDBG public input meeting. None should receive serious consideration for CDBG funding – not because they are poor projects, but because there should be better projects.

With such limited federal dollars, Jamestown needs to think in terms of a bigger picture when spending CDBG and HOME money.