ITHACA, N.Y.—Typically, this is a March topic that comes as regularly as the spring rains. However, the calendar has moved up this year for the annual disbursement by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) of state and federal grants it has been awarded. The projects identified as having the most community benefit, the “bang for the buck”, will be the big winners.

Not only does this involve the application itself, it also involves a presentation explaining the request and answering any questions from the IURA board, which from a practical standpoint doubles as a pitch. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) will be holding public hearings on February 24th and March 3rd as part of the process to determine who will receive money from its U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants.

The annually awarded grants are the Community Development Block Grant Entitlement Program (CDBG) and Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME). The requests are designed to help people, or specifically to fund organizations in the community that help people in the low- and moderate-income category. The highest amount of funding is typically requested for housing-related projects.

All summed up, there’s $2,032,535 requested, and $1,132,117 available (actually $845,517 when the $166,600 to run the IURA and $120,000 for the revolving low-interest Economic Development Loan Fund are deducted),, so this makes it a very competitive process for grant funds. Applicants present their projects, answer questions from IURA staff and appointed public committee members, and the proposals are weighed on factors such as the applicant’s track record, the likelihood of success, and if the project delivers the most “bang for the buck” to the Ithaca community.

Quick reference note, the amount available has typically been around $1.1-$1.2 million in the past few years, so 2022 is right around the multi-year average. However, the requested amounts this year are on the high side – last year was $1.74 million, 2020 was $2.26 million, and 2019 was $1.25 million.

This year, 21 applications were received, which is on the low side of the long-term average – in other words, there are fewer applicants this year, but they’re asking for more money than what the IURA typically sees with each application. The intended uses for the grant dollars range from job training to community services to the development of affordable housing. Below is a summary of the applicants, with links to each application at the start of the entry.

215 Cleveland Avenue

Housing

1. 215 Cleveland Avenue Rehab – Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) is requesting $50,000 towards the renovation of a dilapidated house in Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood, which upon completion would be sold to a low-moderate income household (in this case, typically less than 80% area median income). The home, which they acquired in tax foreclosure last year, would be locked into the Community Housing Trust to keep it permanently affordable.

2. 2021 Homeowner Rehab – Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) is seeking $195,000 toward its ongoing home rehabilitation program for lower-income homeowners (often seniors on fixed incomes). Example work includes roofing, porch rebuilds, replacement of exterior siding, plumbing, heating and similar big-ticket expenses that are difficult to pay for with limited means. The request is well above the $125,000 requested last year, but in previous years they sought to cover six major rehabs, and this year they’d like to do eight.

3. Small Repair Program – Another long-running program, INHS is requesting $40,000, about $6,000 more than last year, to fund small emergency repairs for 40 lower-income people with disabilities, seniors, single heads of households and other city homeowners. Examples of projects under under this program are wheelchair ramps, handicap-accessible showers, railing installations, and minor plumbing and electrical repairs (i.e. the pipe isn’t spewing into the basement, but the kitchen sink is leaking).

4. Energy Efficient Lighting – BlocPower LLC is requesting $101,366 to replace existing lighting fixtures with efficient LED fixtures for 50 lower-income homeowners, in conjunction with the city’s planned larger program (which is also in partnership with BlocPower) to offer efficient lighting replacements to all low-moderate income residential buildings with 5+ units.

5. Aurora Street & Morris Avenue Revitalization – Tompkins-Cortland Habitat for Humanity is seeking $70,000 in grant funds to support the rehabilitation of two tax-foreclosed homes at 417 South Aurora Street and 109 Morris Avenue, creating 2 units of owner-occupied affordable housing for first-time lower-income homebuyers. Habitat for Humanity partners with local, first-time homebuyers with household incomes of 30-60% area median income, and the homebuyers are expected to go through a homebuyer education course and put in 350 hours of “sweat equity” by assisting in the construction work.

6. Sears Street Development – The big-ticket project this year is INHS’s request for $200,000 towards the construction of four owner-occupied homes on Sears Street on land to be acquired from Tompkins County as they pursue plans for a new office building (you can read more about it here). The homes would be sold to lower-income homeowners making about 80% of area median income for a household and be held in the Community Housing Trust.

7. Security Deposit Assistance for Vulnerable Households (2022-23) – Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga Counties is seeking $76,500, same as last year, for security deposits for 65 low-income tenants. This includes five Housing for School Success participants, a support program for previously homeless families.

8. Geno Legacy Project – The Unbroken Promise Initiative (UPI) is requesting $150,000 in funding to assist at least 3 LMI first-time homebuyers with down-payment assistance, enabling them to buy homes in the City of Ithaca. For homes needing rehabilitation, UPI will provide additional funds for repairs and improvement. The project is named in honor of longtime community activist Eugenio “Geno” Bush Jr., who passed away in 2018.

Economic Development

9. Green Jobs Opportunities through Reuse Training – Finger Lakes ReUse (FLRU) is asking for $61,935 to help cover the costs for job training for LMI populations and placement of at least 8 lower-income adults with employment barriers (currently unemployed, disabled, formerly incarcerated) into permanent unsubsidized positions. The initiative will operate as part of FLRU ongoing ReSET jobs training program, which has received IURA funding in previous years.

10.  Work Preserve Job Training: Job Placements – A long-running program and recipient of HUD funds, Historic Ithaca is requesting $67,500, same as the past few years, to help place five low to moderate-income individuals in permanent employment. This includes intensive one-on-one training on goal setting, project management and execution, resume writing, interviewing, and a transition from Historic Ithaca’s store into a new employer. Previous transition employers include Agway, GreenStar and Challenge Workforce Solutions.

11. Hospitality Employment Training Program (HETP) – The Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) is requesting $100,000 for its Hospitality Employment Training Program (HETP), which will provide hospitality and office/administrative job training and readiness for ten individuals, and job placement for eight.

Public Facilities and Infrastructure

12. Catholic Charities Building – INHS has submitted a request for $93,744 in funding to address critical inherited deferred building maintenance issues to allow Catholic Charities to continue operations at its location at 324 West Buffalo Street. The planned repairs at the Catholic Charities building include roofing, gutter & downspout replacement, vermiculite abatement and installation of new blown-in cellulose insulation in attic, and repair of failing existing stained glass windows.

13. Bus Stops and Shelters – Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) has filed an ask for $72,600 to improve bus stops and shelters around the city of Ithaca, with a focus on the West End neighborhood. The nine stops (signage) and two shelters would be placed to serve the new Route 30 through the West End corridor.

14. West End Pedestrian Improvements – The City of Ithaca (which has to apply for grant funding like everyone else) is asking for $205,000 in funding to construct ADA curb ramps, sidewalks, and cross-walks at the Elm St./Chestnut St. Intersection and the 200 Block of Cecil A. Malone Drive.

15. Splash Pad and Bathroom Building – Friends of Stewart Park (FSP) has requested $100,000 in funding in its application to help cover the costs of expanded ADA-accessible recreational and public bathroom facilities, resulting in the ability for disabled adults and/or children to play alongside one another without barriers.

Public Services

16. 2-1-1 Information & Referral – Another long-time program applicant and funding recipient, the Human Services Coalition (HSC) is asking for $25,000 for staffing its ongoing 2-1-1 information and referral call service.

17. Work Preserve Job Training: Job Readiness – In tandem with their job placement program (Item #8 above), Historic Ithaca, Inc. has filed a request for $20,000 for job readiness training for ten low- to moderate-income community members. Training takes place at Historic Ithaca’s Significant Elements architectural salvage store at 212 Center St., where participants build their professional skills in retail and customer service, warehousing, online sales, facility maintenance, and furniture repair.

18. Immigrant Services Program – Catholic Charities is aiming for a $30,000 grant to help cover the costs of its support services for immigrants and refugees looking to begin another chapter of their lives in Ithaca. The program funds would support 100 individuals as Catholic Charities seeks to help place them in homes, jobs and support their efforts to integrate into the community.

19. GIAC Computer Lab – The Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) has requested $22,750 in funding to update its 12-station computer lab, with the goal being to help bridge the achievement and accessibility gap often faced by lower-income families and participants.

20. Pre-Apprentice Program % Work Services – Black Hands Universal is requesting $31,300 in funding assistance to cover some of its materials, OSHA certifications and participant stipends as it works with the local trade unions and construction sector to provide education, training and apprenticeship programs for under-represented individuals of color. The goal is to help at least fifteen participants build the skills needed to enter to enter the skilled construction labor and trades workforce.

21. Latino Multicultural Center – No Más Lagrimas (No More Tears), an Ithaca-based social services non-profit organization, is asking for $33,240 in funding to help cover the costs of weekly free food distributions and increased Latino Multicultural Center programming, including youth programming that includes art workshops and entertainment.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.