Toledo City Council restores funding to 3 shelters

Plan reverses Bell’s recommended cuts

5/17/2013
BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Denise Fox of Aurora House, left, and Renee Palacios of Family House speak with Toledo City Council member George Sarantou at Thursday’s meeting on funding.
Denise Fox of Aurora House, left, and Renee Palacios of Family House speak with Toledo City Council member George Sarantou at Thursday’s meeting on funding.

Ignoring Mayor Mike Bell’s defiant attempt to cut them out of the plan to allocate millions of federal grant dollars this year, Toledo City Council voted on Thursday to restore funding to three homeless shelters that were facing sharp cutbacks and also directed money to a North Toledo community group’s senior housing project.

Denise Fox, executive director of the homeless shelter Aurora House, wiped away tears of happiness from her face after council voted to reverse Bell administration-recommended funding cuts, and instead approved its own plan to allocate more than $6 million of Community Development Block Grant funding. The center’s funding for CDBG money originally was slated to be slashed in half from last year.

Whether the council’s actions will stick though, is up in the air — depending on who is asked about the situation.

Mayor Bell sent the city’s “one-year action” to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday, a day before a planned council meeting on the topic and without the traditional approval from city council. Many on council indicated they intended to adjust the allocation recommendations from the city’s department of neighborhoods because of the consternation from shelters.

Bell administration officials told council earlier this week that it lacked the authority to change the recommendations and that it had to simply rubber-stamp them.

The process of deciding how to divvy up the CDBG funding started in January and included getting recommendations from a 10-member “Community Review Committee.” That committee was stacked with four city neighborhoods department employees, another Bell administration director, and the domestic partner of city neighborhoods department director Lourdes Santiago. Another committee operated through the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board reviewed requests from homeless shelters.

The mayor’s move Wednesday sparked outrage among council and it acted swiftly Thursday to revise the plan as it saw fit for $6.1 million in CDBG funding. It also voted to accept $610,343 in Emergency Solutions Grant funds and $1.68 million in federal HOME funding.

Councilman Steven Steel said HUD may not accept the mayor’s plan submitted Wednesday because it lacked council’s authorization. A spokesman for HUD in Chicago could not be reached for comment on Thursday about whether the mayoral-council dispute would have impact on the federal funding. The HUD deadline was today.

The mayor said Wednesday he gave city council plenty of time to weigh in, but most members, he said, were afraid to do so because they knew the spending cuts would be politically unpopular.

“We started working on this in October. Some of them purposely avoided taking on this issue so they could seek political cover. That they chose not to act is not our problem,” Mr. Bell said.

Ms. Santiago, the city’s neighborhoods department director, attended the special council meeting on Thursday and had no comment after it. City spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said Mayor Bell, who did not attend, also would not comment. “I think the mayor will review the legislation and take action accordingly,” she said.

On Tuesday, Ms. Santiago and Law Director Adam Loukx told council members they lacked the authority to change the recommendations submitted by the administration, even though that has been the practice many times.

“What council’s role is to say ‘Yes, we accept it,’ and allocate the money,” Mr. Loukx said. “I believe that they have very, very limited ability to do that. There has been, and always has been, adjustments under the HUD recommendations. I don’t believe there is any real authority and I don’t want to be as curt as [Ms. Santiago] to say it is not your job, but that is an accurate statement.”

To restore CDBG funding to the same levels as last year for Aurora House, St. Paul’s Community Center, and Family House, council on Thursday took $150,000 away from the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board. That money had been earmarked by the Bell administration to be allocated out by the homelessness board but council instead voted to send it directly to shelters — cutting the homelessness board out.

Council also voted to take $92,800 of CDBG away from the City of Toledo department of neighborhoods budget, and instead use it for the shelters and United North Inc.

“What everyone received in 2012 they will receive in 2013,” said Councilman D. Michael Collins, who offered the amendment to change the plan.

“We redistributed the money to the shelters that were downsized such as St. Paul’s Community Center,” he said. “In addition, we placed $59,395 toward United North's project, contingent upon it receiving tax credits.”

United North Inc. late last year proposed turning the former St. Hedwig School in North Toledo’s Polish Village into 41 apartments for low-income seniors. Executive Director Terry Glazer was dismayed to have that project cut out of recommendations for the CDBG allocation.

The mayor’s plan assumed the city would get $6.8 million in CDBG money. Council reduced that expectation to $6.1 million in anticipation of sequestration reducing the amount.

Council voted 9-0 on the CDBG legislation. Councilmen George Sarantou and Joe McNamara, whose spouses serve on CDBG-funded boards, abstained.

Councilman Tom Waniewski was not present. The ESG and HOME fund votes were 11-0.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.