City approves CDBG, HOME plans

Commissioners unanimously adopted the 2022 annual action plan and the amended 2020-2024 consolidated plan for the city’s Community Development Block Grant program, as required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The plan outlines how the federal funds from HUD should be spent in the community.

HUD requires adoption of the annual action plan for the city to receive its annual allocation of CDBG and Home Investment Partnership Program, or HOME, funds.

For the upcoming fiscal year, the city will receive $764,295 in CDBG funds and $319,759 of HOME funds.

City seeking public comment on CDBG, HOME plans

CDBG funds are designed to help provide services to either low to moderate income clients or low to moderate income geographic areas of the community.

HOME funds are designed to support local affordable housing initiatives.

The annual action plan is meant to meet the larger goals set within the five-year consolidated plan by narrowing the focus for one program year, according to city planning staff.

The city’s priorities in this year’s plan include focusing on public services, affordable housing, housing rehabilitation, fair housing, economic development, public facilities and improvements and planning and administration.

City holding public needs hearing on CDBG, HOME funds

The city has been conducting public hearings and taking public comment on the plan since April.

During the April 5 public hearing, members of the public spoke about providing services related to homelessness and providing affordable housing.

Some have suggested using the funds to establish an emergency shelter for homeless, but the funds cannot be used for congregate housing and no entity has submitted a proposal or request for funds for any project related to a homeless shelter, according to city staff.

GFFR requesting CDBG funds to purchase new ambulance

This year’s annual action plan includes:

  • the regulatory maximum of 15 percent of the total allocation for public service activities;
  • identifying that both HOME and CDBG funds can be used to support affordable housing efforts, which would include property acquisition in additional to slum and blight removal for affordable housing.

For new affordable housing construction, the city has about $900,000 of unspent HOME funds from prior funding years available for eligible projects.

City accepting applications for CDBG, HOME funds [2021]

The city will receive another $1 million of HOME-ARP funds this year that “represent a significant opportunity to add new affordable housing stock into the Great Falls community,” according to staff.

Applications for the CDBG and HOME funds are on the city website.

In the past grant year, from July 2021 to June 30, 2022, commissioners awarded a CDBG public services grant for $16,000 to Montana Legal Services, which provides free civil legal assistance to low income individuals in an effort to prevent eviction and homelessness, according to the city.

NWGF receives $6.1 million in low income housing tax credits for Baatz Building renovation

The previous grant cycle, the commission awarded a $60,000 CDBG public services grant to Alliance for Youth, which provides meals, transportation, addiction and suicide prevention service to youth who are homeless, at risk of homelessness and/or have experiences child abuse, according to the city.

Commissioner Rick Tryon said during the July 5 meeting that it was a missed opportunity not to use the funds for a homeless shelter since there had been an increase in homelessness.

Outreach efforts expanding for homelessness, addressing issues at downtown church

No agencies or groups have applied for the funds to establish a homeless shelter, according to city staff, and multiple local agencies that provide direct services to the homeless have said there has not been a significant increase in homelessness locally based on their annual counts and requests for their services.

Tryon said they need to more clearly identify what homeless means.

There are specific federal definitions of homelessness for federal programs under the 1987 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act that provides federal dollars for homeless shelter programs and HUD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs definitions.

Downtown church, businesses, city at odds over handling of homeless population

Tryon said that there seems to be a misconception that the city is directly involved in addressing homelessness, but it is not and provides funds through programs to agencies that do provide services.

He encouraged those who want to see the city do more to come up with a plan and apply for the funds.

City Manager Greg Doyon said that there’s also a housing authority in the city that has its own programs to assist with housing needs.

Downtown church withdraws permit application for tent encampment

Mayor Bob Kelly said that funds are available for local agencies to request and that many local agencies are working on longterm solutions to homelessness.

Emergency shelters, Kelly said, are plagued with difficulty and they “haven’t seen an organization come forward with the infrastructure capable of handling an emergency shelter so they haven’t seen a request for those funds.”

Zoning board denies permit request for tent encampment at downtown church

Referring to the tent encampment at the First United Methodist Church downtown, Kelly said that there are people working on the issues there, but at this point there’s not the skill set of infrastructure or IRS status for a grant to be awarded to that group yet.

There’s been discussion of establishing a low or no barrier homeless shelter, which Kelly said is a “very difficult thing to stand up.”

City files legal action against downtown church over tent encampment

The church has withdrawn its application for a conditional use permit for the tent encampment and has indicated to the city that it will submit a new application.

The city notified the church this spring that the encampment was a violation of city code  and the church did not adhere to the city code within the 10 day compliance period so the city filed a lawsuit in district court to address the enforcement action. That lawsuit is still pending in district court.