Block Grant Program Bouncing Back

Aug. 15, 2008 — After suffering years of federal funding cuts, V.I. Housing Finance Authority (HFA) officials told senators Friday on St. Thomas that the territory's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program is making a comeback — inching its way up from a $1.7 million grant award for 2007 to a little over $1.8 million in 2008.
Though it may not seem to be a big difference, last year's $1.7 million award was $200,000 less than the amount of funding received in 2006 — a cut government officials have attributed to administrative problems and a lack of proper fund management at the local level, along with a historical lag in spending the funds after they've been awarded community organizations, non-profits and other groups for various projects and after-school programs.
Now administered locally by the Housing Finance Authority, the program was located, up until a few months ago, under the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. It is supervised nationally by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which also distributes CDBG funds to the states and territories.
The Housing Finance Authority staff is currently patching up many of the program's longstanding problems, including going after organizations whose projects have continued to languish and whose funds have remained unspent, HFA Executive Director Clifford Graham said during the Committee of the Whole meeting. Efforts over the past year and a half to restructure the program have not gone unnoticed by HUD, he added; earlier this month, and for the first time in the history of the program, HUD said the territory had met certain thresholds put in place to ensure that CDBG funds are disbursed and spent in a timely manner.
When asked how HFA is dealing with managing the program since the transfer from DPNR, Graham said, "To answer that, I say we had some turbulence along the way, but I think we're in a calmer flying pattern now and the captain has turned off the fasten seatbelt sign."
This year, 55 applications for CDBG funding — two for St. John, 24 for St. Thomas and 29 for St. Croix — were submitted to the Housing Finance Authority. Collectively, the proposals totaled some $9.1 million, forcing the authority to whittle the applications down to a final 22, consisting of 10 projects for the St. Thomas-St. John district and 12 projects for St. Croix. Each district will receive an equal amount of CDBG funding, or about $724,265, Graham said.
"The historical performance of each applicant relative to their timely use of funds was used as a determining factor in the decision making process for the allocation of 2008 CDBG funds," he explained. "Other factors that were considered in this assessment included readiness to proceed, demonstrated ability to carry out the project with fewer funds than requested and the overall viability of the project."
Any organization or group receiving CDBG funds will be continuously monitored and will have to submit monthly reports of their activities, said Janine Hector, HFA's federal programs director. Authority staff will also be making regular visits to make sure each project is moving forward she added.
Projects recommended for this year's grant award, which senators will later vote to approve or disapprove, are:
St. John
— Virgin Islands Resource Center for the Disabled Inc: $8,000 for the operation of an after school program at the Julius Sprauve Elementary School that teaches computer and developmental skills to residents of all ages with developmental and physical disabilities; and
— St. Ursula's Senior Citizen Multi-Purpose Center: $7,250 for the operation of a computer training program for children, young adults and senior citizens.
St. Thomas
— Department of Agriculture: $140,000 for the redevelopment of the Bordeaux Farmer's Market, which would include permanent kiosks for vendors to sell their produce;
— Wesley Methodist Church: $19,000 for the operation of an after-school program that provides tutorial, counseling and other educational programs for about 60 students;
— V.I. Resource Center for the Disabled: $27,000 for the operation of a program that teaches computer and developmental skills to about 35 students with disabilities;
— UVI-Upward Bound Program: $22,000 to operate after school tutorial, homework assistance and SAT prep courses for students between 13 and 18 years old;
— St. Andrews Seek & Serve Outreach Inc: $16,985.68 to operate an after school program, computer skill training, PSAT and SAT prep classes for 40 to 45 students in Paul M. Pearson Gardens, Oswald Harris Court and Sugar Estate on St. Thomas;
— We From Upstreet Inc: $22,750 for an after school tutorial and homework assistance program for 60 students at J. Antonio Jarvis Elementary School;
— Family Resource Center: $223,560 to complete the rehabilitation of a counseling facility; and
— V.I. Economic Development Authority Enterprise Zone Commission: $237,699 for the Paint, Scrape and Rejuvenate program designed to rehabilitate private homes in Savan (the program aims to scrape and paint up to 40 homes in the area).
For a list of projects recommended for St. Croix, see "Senate Hears Requests for Community Development Block Grant Funds."
Present during Friday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Basil Ottley Jr., Carmen M. Wesselhoft and Celestino A. White Sr.
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