Recently, Flagstaff City Council made decisions regarding the disbursement of the 2021 Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) that have been allocated to the city by the Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG) and the United States Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department.
According to NACOG, CDBG funds are generally administered by both HUD and the state government based on the region. The cities within the northern Arizona region of the state are overseen by NACOG in terms of annual fund allocation and planning. CDBG typically provides funding to housing and community development activities.
Vice mayor Becky Daggett explained her knowledge of the CDBG process is based mainly on her time serving on the grant review committee as a private Flagstaff resident. The funds are generally allotted to the city with strict distribution and reporting requirements, Daggett said. The beginning of this process, according to Daggett’s personal experience, involves a committee of citizens that are knowledgeable about the community’s needs who read through, as well as score, each CDBG application. This committee then takes their recommendations to city staff who review them once more before sending them to the city council for a final approval.
“Affordable housing is a priority for this council as it has been for prior councils,” Daggett said. “Projects that help to provide housing or assistance with keeping people housed will be given priority.”
Flagstaff housing and grants administrator Kristine Pavlik detailed the specific objectives of CDBG on federal and local levels.
“The primary national objective of the CDBG is the development of viable urban communities through the provision of decent housing, a suitable living environment and economic opportunity, specifically for low-to-moderate-income individuals,” Pavlik said. “Low to moderate is defined as 80% of the area median income … in Flagstaff this means a household of four would have an income limit of $60,150 in order to be considered low to moderate income.”
According to Daggett and newly-elected Mayor Paul Deasy, some of the local programs and projects that have received funding from CDBG in past years include Flagstaff Housing Solutions and Flagstaff Shelter Services. Deasy stated these programs aim to promote home ownership, as well as provide housing for those who are homeless. Pedestrian sidewalks, crosswalks and storm drains across the city have also been funded by CDBG in the past.
Pavlik also explained there are several different ways the city is able to use CDBG money in partnerships with selected applicants.
“The city is able to partner with local agencies and social service providers that are administering programs and undertaking projects with shared goals, such as developing affordable housing and preventing homelessness,” Pavlik said. “CDBG can be used to support new programs and projects, as well as increase current services offered.”
Pavlik said in 2019, CDBG funded projects that served more than 5,073 individuals and an additional 13 households within the Flagstaff community. These projects ranged from eviction prevention to shelter services. 693 individuals who were experiencing homelessness at the time were aided through the shelter and day services that CDBG helped to fund.
One of the main changes to the 2021 funding and application process, Deasy said, is a greater focus on providing high-speed internet to low-income neighborhoods. This internet infrastructure would ideally include Wi-Fi hot spots as a priority, Deasy said.
“To me, the internet, now as a priority, is the equivalent of electricity 100 years ago,” Deasy said. “This is the infrastructure of the 21st century that we must get on board with and expand to better our community. This is the new infrastructure that we can use to create more equity, opportunity and access for those that don’t have the privileges and opportunities that I’ve been afforded in my life.”
Additionally, Deasy and Pavlik explained that city council has also decided to include a new question within the CDBG applications. This question would require the applicant to explain how their project or program intends to address equity, diversity and overall inclusion within the community. Due to the pandemic, applicants will also receive an additional month to respond to the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) with their proposals, Pavlik said.
Despite these changes, both Deasy and Daggett said the overall goal of the CDBG funding remains the same as it always has. It aims to help those within the community who reside within low income or historically disenfranchised neighborhoods, as well as those who remain homeless.
“Funding to assist the most vulnerable in Flagstaff is scarce and CDBG money enables the community to work together to address critical needs,” Daggett said.
While CDBG funds do truly help the city council to chip away at the housing problems in Flagstaff, Deasy said it will never completely eliminate the issue. He stated that the city would need a much larger source of funding in order to attain the amount of housing the community needs.