The federal Community Development Block Grant program is a flexible program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs. Started in 1974, the program is one of the longest continuously run programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and provides annual grants to 1,180 local and state entities.
Federal Community Development Block Grant Small Cities Program funds come to the city through the Office of Housing and Community Partnerships (OHCP), which is a division of the Ohio Department of Development.
According to information provided to the members of council by Justin Starlin, economic development coordinator, the OHCP provides annual financial and technical assistance to units of local government in Ohio through the CDBG program. These funds are allocated to cities like Wooster for projects and activities which aim to benefit either low to moderate income citizens and/or community oriented businesses or areas.
Councilman Jon Ansel noted that the city received $111,000 in Small Cities CDBG funding last year, which was used to support a number of local projects, including site preparation activities for the Freedlander Building redevelopment project, funding for a study on a possible regional 911 dispatch center, assistance to the Viola Startzman Free Clinic and funding for a required fair housing program.
Ansel stated that this year the city expects to receive a total of $102,000 in CDBG funding, which will be allocated amongst three projects.
After receiving input from the community during a pair of public hearings in May and July, the city ultimately allocated $83,500 of its CDBG funding for infrastructure improvements associated with the Freedlander’s property redevelopment project, including a public parking lot and sidewalks in the area of the soon to be constructed Merchants Block complex, $15,000 in assistance to the Viola Startzman Free Clinic, and $3,500 for a federally required fair housing program.
Wooster Mayor Bob Breneman said that CDBG monies are intended “to benefit low to moderate income areas of your town. The downtown area falls within that qualification.”
Breneman added that with the redevelopment of the Freedlander’s property came the realization that “we need to have parking to support that development along with other businesses within the downtown. This is earmarked to help defray some of those costs of that infrastructure to provide parking for that area.”
Over the past few years CDBG funding “has been a very significant tool for our economic development and the positive redevelopment of the downtown area,” Ansel said.
He is hopeful that this funding stream will continue to be available in the future.
“We hope that this money continues to flow, but we also are very concerned that future funding may diminish significantly,” Ansel said.
Councilmen Jon Ulbright and Mark Cavin expressed their desire that in the near future there will be a more residential focus on CDBG funded projects.
Breneman responded by noting that while the current focus is on keeping downtown viable and able to support downtown businesses and residents, he believes that “we will reach a time where that project will be self-sustaining. That’s when you would see us branching out into other neighborhoods.”
“I fully understand the need to create a viable downtown, but we also need to create a viable residential area and this is more, in my mind, what the money is set aside for. In the future should there be funds I would highly encourage the administration to address this problem,” said Cavin.
Published: July 25, 2011