Staff making recommendations for revised Great Falls CDBG process; grant funding

As part of the process to revamp the Community Development Block Grant program, the city conducted a public survey and focus groups on needs, goals and priorities for the funding.

During Tuesday’s City Commission work session, Planning Director Craig Raymond shared the results of the survey.

The city received 332 survey responses through postal mail, hand delivery and email.

Survey is first step in city’s revamped CDBG process

The survey asked how people would like to see the city use CDBG and HOME grant funds. Of the responses, 177 said they want a balance of specific needs and geographic areas; 88 said the funds should go entirely toward a geographic area; and 54 said the funds should go toward a specific need.

Commission pushes decision to Monday on updated CBDG plan, new projects

Another survey question asked for respondents to rank the following priorities when thinking of the city as a whole, with 1 being the highest and 6 being the lowest.

Public improvements came in first with a 2.58 ranking; residential housing rehab was next with 2.78; public services with 3.16; transitional housing at 3.2; economic development was 3.37 and homeownership was 3.65.

Asked which housing initiatives respondents would prioritize, rental housing unit rehab ranked first with 173 responses; single family home rehab next with 160 responses; housing education and counseling with 140; transitional housing with 134; new construction of rental units with 116 and new construction of single family homes with 113.

Respondents ranked homelessness services top among public services with 134 responses; senior services with 110 and alcohol and drug treatment with 98 responses.

Key points from the stakeholder focus group that had 26 participants were that the city should be strategic with funding, putting a large percentage on a specific goal or project to see a bigger impact; and to use funding to support transitional housing, affordable rental units, public improvements and remove housing barriers, according to the city presentation.

Staff’s recommendations for CDBG strategy is to fund the top three priorities identified by the community and focus on achieving a large goal or implementing larger projects.

The top three priorities identified through public outreach are public improvements, residential housing rehab and public services: housing education and counseling, homelessness services, senior services, and alcohol and drug treatment.

For public services, Raymond said it must be a new service or clear expansion of service to be eligible for CDBG funding.

The city is revamping the process for selecting projects after last year’s process was plagued with conflict of interest issues and a review by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

City staff proposing major changes to CDBG process; HUD looking at additional potential conflicts

The proposed process will include funding percentages that will be determined by the City Commission. The applications for grants won’t be available until the funding allocation is released by HUD and the commission sets its funding priorities.

Applications will be accepted year-round and be reviewed by city staff and loans will continue to be reviewed by loan review boards at the Great Falls Development Authority and the Great Falls Housing Authority.

The commission set a public hearing for April 17 for the upcoming year’s public needs hearing for CDBG funds, grant policies and the proposed citizen participation plan.

[READ: citizen participation plan]

The 15-day comment period on the participation plan started March 30 and runs through April 16.

Staff is planning to present recommended funding priorities and specific goals, as well as percent allocations to commissioners during their May 1 meeting and the 30-day public comment period on the plan will be May 8 through June 8. The city plans to submit their paperwork to HUD on June 15.