Last year alone, the City and 14 nonprofits spent $3.07 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds on 32 programs and services for more than 6,200 beneficiaries, of which 98.6 percent were lower income. (Federal law requires that at least 70 percent of CDBG beneficiaries be low- and moderate-income, while the remainder may be used to prevent or eliminate slums or blight or to meet urgent community-development needs, such as natural-disaster relief.) The previous year, 26 programs and services totaling $3.27 million were delivered by 16 nonprofits and the City for the benefit of nearly 6,180 Davenporters, 98.2 percent of whom were low-income.
Each year, entitlement cities, like Davenport, receive CDBG funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These funds can be used for a number of activities to revitalize neighborhoods, expand affordable housing and economic opportunities, improve community facilities and services, and administer the local program. It's up to local governments, in consultation with their citizens, to decide how best to meet their many needs with their CDBG funds. In Davenport over the past three years, 12.9 percent of CDBG funds went for administration/planning (limited by federal statute to 20 percent); 54.8 percent for housing; 8.6 percent for economic development; 4.7 percent for public facilities, such as homeless shelters; 14.6 percent for public services, such as, youth recreation, domestic abuse prevention, and elder care (federally capped at 15 percent); and 4.5 percent for targeted neighborhood revitalization. In Davenport, these decisions are based on local objectives derived from the input of our citizens and nonprofit partners. A Citizens' Advisory Committee (CAC) - 15 Davenport residents appointed by the Mayor and City Council - diligently and thoughtfully establish selection criteria on which to make funding recommendations to the Council of those applications that best meet local objectives and federal requirements. Final approval rests with Davenport's elected officials.
The decisions these bodies make are not easy, especially when requests for CDBG funds over the last three fiscal years were 1.6 times the amount available. This problem was particularly acute for public services, where the requested amount was 1.8 times more than the amount that could be allocated under the federal cap. When there isn't enough pie to go around, as is the case with CDBG funds, some people will be displeased with how the pie was sliced. No selection system, not even Davenport's, can change this fact. The only thing that will is when Congress appropriates enough funding to meet the demands for these programs and services.
Nevertheless, the City and its nonprofit partners are trying to make the pie bigger by using other funds for the programs and services. For example, over the last three fiscal years, $6.02 was spent on projects for every dollar spent in operating the City's housing-rehabilitation program. The ratio for one of our partners in housing, Neighborhood Housing Services, was $3.17 to $1. The CDBG pie is distributed fairly well between the City and the nonprofits when compared to other nearby CDBG entitlement cities. During the past three fiscal years, 46 percent of the CDBG funds allocated in Davenport for all programs went to nonprofits, while the remaining 54 percent went to the City. Only Iowa City provided a lesser percentage (37.6 percent) of its CDBG funds to city programs. The percentages of funds going to city programs in the other communities were: Moline at 58.3 percent, Cedar Rapids at 79.3 percent, Rock Island at 85.2 percent, and Dubuque at 89.4 percent. These percentages paint a far different picture than that portrayed in the Reader's article.
Besides a lack of balanced reporting, the Reader's article contains inaccurate, misleading, and, in some cases, ludicrous statements. For instance, the five selection factors used by the CAC were not equally weighted as reported; each was weighted differently. Nor was the selection process an "annual free-for-all" as was attributed to a local housing activist who, by the way, was not seen by staff at any of the meetings during which the applications were reviewed.
The CAC follows a very deliberative process in reviewing CDBG applications. The process begins with two meetings during which the CAC reviews applications and prepares questions applicants are asked to answer prior to their subsequent presentation to the CAC. Then each CAC member rates each application according to the evaluation elements and suggests a funding amount. Based on this data, the applications are listed in rank-order of total points accompanied by an average recommended funding amount. From this list, the CAC makes its final recommendations to go to the City Council for final action. This is far from a "free-for-all."
Finally, it's preposterous to think that City staff is able to influence the CAC's decisions because they supply the CAC with "sodas and sandwiches." For over 25 years, the CAC has been making CDBG funding recommendations to the City Council. Though its membership and selection processes have changed during the years, this group of conscientious citizens has worked long and tirelessly to make Davenport a better place to live. They meet regularly once a month for an average of one-and-a-half hours and an average of two-and-a-half hours for five meetings during their application review process. These hours don't include the time they spend individually reviewing monthly reports and applications; visiting CDBG-funded programs; and attending to other CAC business. Reporting comments like the one concerning "sodas and sandwiches" diminishes their good work and has no place in a fair and balanced report.
For your readers who really want to be informed, they are encouraged to attend the CAC meetings, all of which are open to the public. The CAC's regular meetings are on the first Monday of the month (excluding Mondays that are holidays, then it's the second Monday) beginning at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.
Greg Hoover, Manager,
Housing & Neighborhood Development,
City of Davenport