City to hold public hearing on program and housing funds

By HASKEL BURNS,

The City of Hattiesburg will host two public hearings to give residents the chance to learn about and voice their opinions on the city’s upcoming 2020 Action Plan for Housing and Community Development Block Grant programs, as well as amendments to previous Action Plans.

The meetings, which will be held concurrently at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 9 in council chambers at Hattiesburg City Hall, will allow citizens to give their input on how CDBG and HOME Investment Partnership Program funds should be spent in the city in the upcoming plan.

“Every five years, we have what’s called a Consolidated Plan that we submit to (the Department of Housing and Urban Development), and as a component of that, every year we have an annual Action Plan that gets a little more specific as to how the money will be spent,” said Andrew Ellard, director of the city’s Urban Development Department. “Both the Consolidated Plan process and the Action Plan process involve a lot of public input opportunities.

“So this public hearing is one of those one such opportunities, where we can hear back from residents on how they feel those funds should be spent – what types of projects they feel like are needed in their communities.”

The portion of the meeting regarding the 2020 Action Plan will deal with approximately $847,000 in funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which the city plans to receive in January or soon thereafter. Those funds will be used to meet the primary objectives of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1974 by providing access to affordable, decent, safe and sanitary housing – and expanding economic opportunities – for persons of low and moderate income.

Of the upcoming funds from HUD, Hattiesburg officials expect to receive a CDBG entitlement grant of approximately $562,000 which the city proposes to use for CDBG administration, commercial rehabilitation/façade improvement, microenterprise assistance and housing programs. The city also expects to receive a HOME entitlement grant of $285,000, which is proposed for HOME administration, Community Housing Development Organization set-aside, down payment assistance, and housing rehabilitation.

“It can vary, and of course we are bound to what is deemed eligible according to HUD, as it’s their funding source,” Ellard said. “Housing, for many, many years, has been the priority project in Hattiesburg. We’ve done a lot of rehabilitation projects for homeowners that have conditions in their home that they need help addressing. “We’ve also done emergency repair situations in homeowner-occupied houses, and offered down payment assistance awards to eligible households. We also do affordable housing development, and there’s different ways that can happen – there’s been construction of new homes over the years, there’s been rehabilitation and rentals as affordable units.”

The part of the meeting regarding the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Action Plan amendments is related to funds allocated each year to administrative purposes. Officials will determine whether to redirect any remaining CDBG funds from previous Action Plans toward housing programs, rather than administrative uses.

“Each year, we have a certain amount of money that is allocated to administrative purposes,” Ellard said. “While it’s limited to how much we can spend, if we don’t spend it, then what we like to do is amend that so that those funds are swept over to project uses, rather than just being lost.

“So the purpose of the amendment is to shift some of those administrative funds over to housing-related projects. Also, in one of the amendments, we are exploring the possibility of a public facility-type project, which did not exist in the 2018 Action Plan.”

The public hearings also serve as an opportunity for urban development officials to educate attendees on what is eligible under the programs.

“It’s one thing for people to say ‘this is what I’d like to see in my community,’ but we can kind of help guide that conversation and tell them what types of activities that are actually eligible,” Ellard said. “Things that we can do with the grant funds are sometimes limited to geography – specifically, maybe census tracts where income is known to be lower than other areas.

“So we can help guide those conversations a little bit better in that public hearing format than we can just from other random comments that we might receive in writing.”