ITHACA, N.Y. – The City of Ithaca will get about $1 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2019 and has turned to the community to ask, “How should it be spent?”
Each year, HUD distributes funds through the HOME Investment Partnerships Program and Community Development Block Grant Program to help eligible cities and counties “develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons.” Cities and counties then administer grant application processes to select projects to fund.
Last year, Ithaca awarded HOME and CDBG funds to projects ranging from the construction of new affordable housing by Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services to an employment readiness program at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center to domestic violence shelter renovations at the Advocacy Center.
While HOME funds must be used for affordable housing, CDBG funds can go toward affordable housing, economic development, public facilities or public services that benefit low- to moderate-income people or remove urban blight. For 2019, HUD defines low to moderate income as anywhere from $0 to $67,000 for a family of four in Tompkins County, based on an area median family income of $89,000.
The city has wide latitude to support projects in line with local priorities using HOME and CDBG funds. So what should the city’s community development priorities be?
At a community forum Thursday, Ithaca’s community development planner Anisa Mendizabal said the city’s unmet needs include various homelessness response and prevention services, fair housing education and enforcement, and programs to support low to moderate income homeowners, in addition to a general need for more affordable housing units.
Representatives from local businesses and organizations added youth shelters and short-term counseling for job seekers to the list of local unmet needs and suggested the city should fund projects that expand housing and employment support for people with disabilities, limited English and mental illness. For example, one commenter suggested funding a housing navigator position to make existing affordable housing units more accessible.
Input from the public will be considered alongside information compiled by city staff as the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency works to put together a new five-year roadmap for community development, known as a Consolidated Plan. The same priorities that make it into the plan will guide the IURA’s decision-making as they consider applications for HOME and CDBG funding.
Successful applications, Mendizabal said, should not only meet key community needs but also make a compelling case for their feasibility and impact. Measurable goals, coordination with community partners, and evidence of other funding streams will all boost an application’s chance of securing funding.
Mendizabal will host another community forum 5 to 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28 at Ithaca City Hall, where community members can learn about the grant application process and weigh in on development priorities.