Lillie Hudgins had the roof of her home replaced with state money obtained through United North. My insurance company was going to drop me,' she says.
Lillie Hudgins needed a new roof for her Bronson Avenue home but didn’t have the money.
“My insurance company was going to drop me if I didn’t get a new roof,” Ms. Hudgins said from the living room of the modest North Toledo house.
With the help of state money obtained through the community development corporation United North Inc., four layers of old roof were torn off Ms. Hudgins’ home and a new roof was laid at a cost of about $6,000.
It was a mini-success for a single homeowner in a neighborhood plagued with boarded-up houses and crime that was the site of a violent riot eight years ago.
But United North Executive Director Terry Glazer said that work and other neighborhood-building is getting harder to accomplish because of federal funding cuts to community development groups like his.
“In order to build up neighborhoods, you need strong community development corporations,” Mr. Glazer said.
He said the city always would dedicate 15 percent of its Community Development Block Grant money for CDCs and 15 percent would also go to the social service agencies because third parties would be more effective at providing services.
Now, he says: “The CDC movement in Toledo has been devastated and my question is, what is replacing that?”
Data from the city of Toledo doesn’t show 15 percent was dedicated to CDCs any year since 2008. But the percentage has been decreasing and the total amount allocated has dropped. City officials said there are fewer CDCs — and with good cause because some were underperforming or not performing at all, said Lourdes Santiago, city neighborhoods department director.
“There is no policy switch,” Ms. Santiago said. “Under HUD regulations, there is no mandate or recommendation that CDCs get 15 percent of the allocation. In prior years, we used to get a lot more dollars than we are getting now.”
A decade ago, the city had 14 community development agencies. Since then, some have been forced to close or merge with others to reduce costs and share resources. Former Mayor Jack Ford led the charge during his one-term in office to reduce the number of CDCs in the city.
The most notable CDC that failed was Organized Neighbors Yielding eXcellence. It shut down early during the Bell administration and was sued by the city in 2012 over repayment of a note. City spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said the ONYX example, while extreme, is not unique among other former CDCs.
“We have a responsibility to the federal government and to taxpayers to be sure we are funding organizations that achieve outcomes,” Ms. Sorgenfrei said.
Today, there are officially two left — United North and NeighborWorks Toledo Region, formerly Neighborhood Housing Services — although three other groups will be funded this year with CDBG money to do CDC activities. They are Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity, Preferred Properties, and Uptown Association.
The city’s 2008-09 action plan on how to spend its CDBG money that year included funding Friendship New Vision, Housing East Redevelopment Corp., Lagrange Development Corp., Neighborhood Housing Services, Neighborhoods In Partnership, NorthRiver Development, ONYX, Ottawa Community Development Corp., River East Redevelopment Corp., Toledo Community Development Corp., and Viva South.
Ms. Santiago said 15 percent of the city’s HOME Investments Partnerships Program grant money, which last year was $1.68 million, is set aside for community development agencies and community housing development organizations. The CDCs also are all community housing development organizations but not vice-versa.
City records on CDBG allocations are confusing. Ordinances passed by City Council in some years include what was expected for that year; some include what was unspent for the prior year, and others have just what was actually allocated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In other years, council ordinances don’t include what had been left over.
This year, the city will get slightly more than $7 million in CDBG money. The administration was expecting $6.8 million. Additionally, there is $1.588 million in unspent CDBG funding left from prior years.
The city identified $653,557 to go to “Community Development Corporation Activities,” which comes to about 9.3 percent of the total CDBG allocation. The amount allocated for the 2013-14 fiscal year to just United North and NeighborWorks is 8.1 percent of the $7 million total.
Between 2008 and 2012, the city identified at least 13.5 percent of its total estimated CDBG funding — including unspent money from prior years — to go toward CDC activities. When reviewing only what the city actually received and how much was allocated to specific CDCs, the percentages include 12.35 percent in 2008-09 to 11.2 percent in 2011-12.
The city has a motive to hand out less CDBG money to outside agencies because CDBG money is also used to pay government overhead inside the city’s neighborhood department. Top officials in the mayor’s office also are partially paid with CDBG money.
Ms. Santiago said the primary use of CDBG money for the city is to follow HUD objectives like code enforcement, nuisance abatement, housing prosecution, rodent abatement, and neighborhood revitalization.
Mr. Glazer acknowledged there are fewer CDCs but doesn’t think the money to outside agencies should drop.
“Perhaps the money should be used to build capacity of CDCs,” he said. “In my opinion, the best way to make neighborhood improvements is with an organization from that neighborhood, and it should be from the bottom up not from the top down as it is when you let the department of neighborhoods do it.”
Former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has consistently criticized Mayor Bell for his attitude toward neighborhoods.
“The present mayor and his administration have very insensitive feelings toward those men and women who live in challenged neighborhoods, and the same insensitivity and lack of consciousness toward the leadership of organizations that serve those neighborhoods,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “The answer isn’t to keep all of the folks in the neighborhoods department employees, although they are good people.”
Ms. Santiago said the neighborhoods department has five program monitors, which is one more than it had in 2008 when Mr. Finkbeiner was mayor. “We also had other positions we have eliminated in order to get a fifth program monitor,” she said.
Mayor Bell, a political independent, said claims that he hasn’t worked to make neighborhoods better are absurd.
“The twist is that the mayor doesn’t do anything with neighborhoods, which is totally untrue and unfounded,” he said. “There are multiple agencies out there that would like more money, but we are still coming out of a recession and we are fighting regulations.”
The city razed 1,150 vacant and blighted homes under his watch, Mr. Bell said. “If council believes these organizations need more money, then they should put that in the [city] budget the way we used to do for things like the symphony,” he said.
The condition of Toledo’s neighborhoods, the city’s neighborhoods department, and federally funded third-party agencies like CDCs and homeless shelters have all been fodder in the mayor’s race this year.
Councilman D. Michael Collins, also an independent, called for a review of all federal money used by the city.
“What I think is obscene is that the department of neighborhoods is run off of HUD money,” Mr. Collins said. “Trying to unfurl this whole thing is like a bowl of spaghetti — trying to figure out what noodles goes where.”
The two Democrats running for mayor — Councilman Joe McNamara and Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez — have both also blasted the mayor for his lack of interest in neighborhoods and each promised more attention.
Councilman Lindsay Webb, a Democrat and a known Lopez supporter, said Ms. Santiago’s reforms in the neighborhoods department following a scandal in 2010 that led to the firing of former Director Kattie Bond, have been over-reaching.
“Lourdes came in and because of the lackadaisical attitudes in the department, vis-à-vis contracts to Mike Bell’s niece, she has over-corrected and made it overly stringent,” Ms. Webb said. “The Achilles heal of the Bell administration is their treatment of the neighborhoods and the fact that they are starving CDCs so they can’t do what they do best is only adding to the problems.”
Bill Farnsel, NeighborWorks executive director, disagreed that the city is starving CDCs.
“We have other income sources other than the city and the city was never meant to fund entire organizations,” Mr. Farnsel said. “We never view the city as our sole source of funding. When they offer to fund us at a lower level, they are simply buying fewer units of service.”
Ms. Santiago, who has been a lawyer for the city and was previously a councilman appointed with the backing of Mr. Finkbeiner, said she considers herself tough but not unreasonable.
“I think the reforms I have done are working,” she said. “We have put in procedures that made a more transparent and open bidding process; we have made our contracts stricter, and put in provisions to hold third-party partners more accountable.”
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.
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