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Gainesville braces for housing grant cuts
Council members are concerned about cuts
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Gainesville city staff is planning for the next round of Community Development Block Grant funds, but they are expecting fewer dollars than ever before.

The city received $436,290 in October for its annual allotment from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year, the staff members are bracing for a drop to $364,300.

"I have no idea when we will get firm numbers," said Chris Davis, the city's housing director who handles the grant funds. "I hope to have something before October, but we still have funding from the current year that will roll over until then."

Davis submitted a 2011 annual action plan to Gainesville City Council members this week. The plan budgets $245,000 for home rehabilitation, down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers and demolition assistance for dilapidated structures.

The housing rehabilitation helps with energy efficiency projects, handicapped accessibility, weatherization changes and lead-based paint testing.

"The primary goal is to assist low- and moderate-income persons within the city, which includes removal of slum and blight and enhancing neighborhoods," Davis said. "How can we help folks through nonprofit agencies, assist them by bringing their house up to code and improve the areas where they live?"

About $52,000 will help nonprofit agencies, and five were approved for funding in the 2011 plan: Ninth District Opportunity, Gateway House, Gainesville Action Ministries, Newtown Florist Club and Our Neighbor Inc.

The funding goes toward youth mentoring, after-school enrichment, homeless services, crime prevention and fair housing programs.

Another $32,000 will go to neighborhood enhancement through landscaping, tree planting, trash and debris removal, painting homes and other beautification efforts.

Pairing the funds with help from volunteers, Davis hopes to revamp the Fair Street and Newtown neighborhoods.

"The funding won't do much citywide, but I've been following what the Fair Street Neighborhood Planning Unit has been doing, and I want to focus efforts in that area," Davis said. "We do have funding citywide, but I'd really like to take advantage of the good bit of participation generated there."

Council members expressed concerns about Congress cutting the funds about $6 million.

"I know that everybody has to cut, but it's important to note that when you cut that much how it affects the least of these in our world," Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said. "I think the overall conversation should recognize that nobody is more important than the least, and I wish everybody would think about the overall picture."

Gainesville became entitled for Community Development Block Grant funding in 2004, and annual allotments have fluctuated, with about $450,000 in funds for 2005, 2006 and 2007 and then a drop to $394,000 in 2008 — the same time the economy spiraled and nonprofits needed the most help.

Funding climbed to $402,000 for the city in 2009 and jumped the additional $34,000 for 2010 but will drop nearly $70,000 this year.

Past projects helped to build the Fair Street Neighborhood Center, provide fair housing counseling and financial literacy counseling to residents, and give additional funds to the homeless system of care in Gainesville. Seven agencies help with homeless services in the city, providing 98 beds, 32 emergency beds and 66 transitional beds.

"These funds help to generate some morale in the community," Davis said. "It's not a lot of money, but anything that we can do to address homelessness, aid nonprofits or beautify an area helps."

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