Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Dealing With The Real Problem With Southbridge Schools I

In the preceding article I highlighted that the fundamental problem confronting Southbridge schools is the socio-economic environment provided by the town.

In this article I want to highlight one area that can contribute to addressing this issue.

There is little doubt that any plan that might be advanced to deal with our community’s economic plight is going to cost money. With resources on the verge of dwindling, one can reasonably ask where such money might come from.

One area that has gone on for years with precious little attention from the public is in the area of Community Development Block Grants. 

According to the state website about this program:
President Gerald Ford signed the Housing and Community Development Act in 1974, giving state and local leaders around the country a powerful new tool to help stimulate community development and job growth - the Community Development Block Grant Program.  Forty years later, CDBG remains the principal source of revenue for localities to use in identifying solutions to address physical, economic, and social deterioration in lower-income neighborhoods and communities.
Massachusetts Community Development Block Grant Program is a federally funded, competitive grant program designed to help small cities and towns meet a broad range of community development needs. Assistance is provided to qualifying cities and towns for housing, community, and economic development projects that assist low and moderate-income residents, or by revitalizing areas of slum or blight.

Below is a chart that details monies received by Southbridge through this program between 2007 and 2013:
During this period we received $6,568,873 in CDBG funds.

Of  that amount, only $331,844 has been devoted to economic development programs!

That’s only 5% of the total!

Over the same period $520,871 has been devoted to Grantee General Administration.

One might say that, well, program restrictions probably dictated how that money should be spent.

However, with the exception of $578,802 received in 2008, all of these funds came from “noncompetitive, Mini-Entitlement community awards”.

Rather, the money has gone to a variety of efforts such as putting signs and awnings on short-lived local businesses, renovation of certain properties and planning studies that have gathered dust.

In 2014 the town received $900,000 and in 2015 it garnered $825,000.

In total that's over $8 million in the last nine years. Couldn't that have been used to make a dent in a situation that has left over 60% of our student population as "economically disadvantaged"?

The first step that I would recommend is a citizens’ committee to evaluate this program and propose activities geared to our economic development, not mere short-lived civic beautification projects and report writing exercises that only benefit highly paid consultants.

9 comments:

  1. Here is my "Like" Button
    This is good and insightful information on town problems and possible solutions that I hope continues on this page.

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  2. This could tie into my point about reducing the oversupply of housing

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    Replies
    1. How does knocking down buildings and dumping them in tne Landfill help our Town, outside the $5.50 a ton for tipping fees?

      Young businessmen (or women) should be given these properties to fix them up and rent them or turn them into low cost co-ops.

      With all the awful publicity about the school system right now, along with litany of lawsuits coming over the leachate leaking landfill, spending good money to remove buildings is not going to uplift our status very much if at all..

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    2. Please see my guess post, "The Education Game"

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    3. Limitations on CDBG Funds in cases of Eminent Domain
      ■ The statute appropriating FY2006 funds for CDBG (Pub. L. 109–115) included an
      administrative provision that prohibits the use of FY2006 funds to support any Federal, State,
      or local project that seeks to use the power of eminent domain, unless that power is sought for
      certain public uses. This provision has been extended in subsequent appropriations.
      ■ HUD considered this a “self-implementing” provision that did not require regulatory
      amendment, but issued a Federal Register Notice on July 17, 2006 to provide guidance to
      CDBG administrators.
      ■ Section 726 of the statute indicated that “public use” shall not be construed to include
      economic development that primarily benefits private entities. Therefore, the restriction exists
      on the use of CDBG funds for or in connection with applications of eminent domain powers.
      ■ The statute made the following uses specifically eligible as public uses:
      o Mass transit, railroad, airport, seaport, or highway projects;
      o Utility projects which benefit or serve the general public (including energy-related,
      communication-related, water-related, and waste water-related infrastructure);
      o Structures for use by the general public or which have other common-carrier or publicutility
      functions that serve the general public and are subject to regulation and oversight by
      the government; and
      o Projects that involve the removal of an immediate threat to public health and safety or the
      removal of brownfields.
      ■ HUD indicated that the development of LMI housing generally is not considered economic
      development within the meaning of Section 726. Therefore, CDBG funds, as well as HUD’s
      housing assistance programs, can be used to support projects in which the sole use of eminent
      domain is to acquire land exclusively for the development of housing for low- to moderateincome
      families.
      ■ Mixed-use housing developments may raise Section 726 concerns, especially where the
      amount of retail or commercial space is more than incidental in relation to the amount of
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      housing. All mixed-used housing developments require careful evaluation, and jurisdictions
      should consult with HUD.
      ■ HUD encourages CDBG grantees to consult with HUD on any project that might involve
      eminent domain, which could occur under any of the following eligible activities:
      o Acquisition of real property;
      o Provision of CDBG assistance to for-profit entities to carry out an economic development
      project;
      o Provision of assistance to public or private nonprofit entities for activities including
      acquisition of real property; and acquisition, construction, or installation of commercial or
      industrial real property improvements;
      o Relocation payments and assistance; and
      o Assistance to community-based development organizations carrying out activities including
      community economic development projects.
      ■ CDBG grantees should also check State law, which may also limit eminent domain.
      ■ Where a project involves eminent domain and is determined to be subject to this funding
      prohibition, grantees may not use CDBG funds to pay for staff time expended on the project.
      This will require grantees to carefully allocate time in accordance with OMB Circular A–87.

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    4. Block grants are not the only means to reduce the oversupply

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    5. What other means are there. Be specific and how would they be paid for.

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  3. To our readers:
    Suppose we could begin to redirect these funds toward economic development. What kind of projects would you recommend?

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  4. There are nice parcels in Southbridge that could make great housing locations for projects like the elderly apartments off Maria Ave.

    On the Cape, section 8 allows for home ownership. If we,had a low income housing with hmeowners, it would change the flavor of lower income living and inspire more community pride, more retail sales, fewer absentee landlords, and hopefully built by qualified local folks that get paid well enough to buy a home here.

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