DeKalb’s housing rehab program is seriously underperforming

Last night, City of DeKalb held a public hearing and approved an annual budget for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). CDBD is a federal program administered by HUD that helps ensure viable communities, particularly in the area of decent and affordable housing for low- to moderate-income residents.

The general public did not participate in the public hearing. We rarely do. The CDBG budget is treated as routine and unremarkable, even when it’s not.

And this year it’s definitely not.

Here’s a quick look at the CDBG budget (with more explanation at the bottom of this post). DeKalb estimates this year’s grant at $400,000, and plans to allocate as follows*:

Private Property Rehabilitation: $60,000 plus $329,649 carryover
Public Services: $60,000 (15% cap on total grant)
Public Facilities $200,000 plus $239,680 carryover
Administration $80,000 (20% cap on total grant)

Instead of a policy of “use it or lose it,” CDBG allows funds to be carried over from year to year. But while accumulation has clear advantages when it comes to large public infrastructure projects, the same cannot be said for individual grants that max out at $5,000 per project. Rehab has three years of carryover, which means Community Development is simply not helping nearly as many families as it used to. The goal is to fund 20 projects per year. In 2017 they completed four.

The city has actually identified causes for the underperformance. From the 2015 Comprehensive Annual Performance and Evaluation Report (CAPER):

A major transition in City staff resulted in a period of time where only one part-time person was working to cover all of the activities of the program. Priorities have since been realigned and new staff has been assigned to take over some of the responsibilities, pending orientation and training. This will permit existing staff to focus on increased marketing and outreach for the program. A second barrier is a lack of flexibility within the program…The current program is targeted to address small emergency repairs and minor weatherization projects with small amounts of funding. As community needs change and the local housing stock continues to age, it may be necessary to re-examine the activities and funding levels currently in use. Plans are in place to review the policies, procedures and practices of the program to ensure that all program activities are targeted to meet the affordable housing needs of the low/mod income population of the City. This includes both housing rehabilitation activities and public facilities/infrastructure improvements, which impact the quality of life for residents of low/mod neighborhoods.

This year, the song is the same: “Need more staff and better marketing.” Nothing has changed.

Translation: “We don’t want to do this anymore.”

I get it. It’s much more fun to plan a STEAM center and to give away millions in TIF money to their favorite people than to do the hard work in the neighborhoods.

If city council members want something different, they’ll have to say so.

*Explanation of budget items: Private Property Rehab helps a homeowner get a house up to code with assistance for, say, roofing or rewiring or a new furnace. Public Services is money that the city combines with operating funds to help support local social service organizations. Public Facilities money typically funds infrastructure projects, and this year will go toward street resurfacing. And Administration is an allowance to help pay for program staff.

Rehab and Facilities projects are often leveraged with TIF money as well, so the TIF-district phase-outs will affect this method of matching the grants.

Related: DeKalb’s Housing Rehabilitation Assistance page