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Block Grants Celebrate the “Big 4-0” and Other Updates from HUD


August 11, 2014 by Lynn Nordby
Category: Revenues , Housing

Block Grants Celebrate the “Big 4-0” and Other Updates from HUD

I recently received an email update from the Northwest Regional Office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that noted some interesting facts and milestones worthy of further comment. I’m sure many of you receive the same electronic epistle and, like me most of the time, don’t take the time to search through the dense text very far.

A few lines caught my eye so I decided to peruse this one more carefully than usual.

Happy Birthday CDBG

Some of us remember a time before the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program began. Back in the day there were only what was known as “categorical grants.” If your community’s needs didn’t fit into a predetermined grant category, you were pretty much out of luck as far as getting any outside help. Then along came a couple of programs: first Federal Revenue Sharing and then the Block Grant program. Personally I liked “revenue sharing” the best. Initially run out of Washington, DC by a former city manager, their staff was small and their red tape minimal. Every city or county got an amount of money based on a formula, and you could spend it with very few strings attached, only reporting at the end of your fiscal year what you’d spent it on. Over time, red tape and bureaucracy increased until the program ended but not before virtually every local government benefitted from the ability to use the funds based on local needs and priorities.

Then along came the CDBG program. It too began simply and has gotten more complicated in inverse proportion to the amount of funding available. What caught my eye in the HUD newsletter though was that the Block Grant program is celebrating 40 years of giving local governments resources to meet local needs and priorities. That’s pretty much equivalent to my entire public service career so far. The value and breadth of the CDBG program to communities across the country is remarkable. Here in Washington, examples range from programs to deter the blighting effects of graffiti in Yakima to health services in Pierce County’s Parkland community to flood protection in Mt Vernon to a museum in Tacoma. CDBG has been making these kinds of things possible nationwide. It’s safe to say that the longevity and positive impact of the Block Grant program has greatly eclipsed the achievements of the old revenue sharing program!

To quote from the newsletter, “That’s forty years since bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress enacted and President Gerald Ford signed CDBG into law… Now that’s something worth celebrating!”

Kudos

Deeper into the message were these “shout outs” to Washington entities:

  • Happy Birthday to the Washington State University Cooperative Extension Service, celebrating 100 years of service to Washington’s rural communities.

  • The Washington State Housing Finance Commission has approved a waiver that allows Washington families at 60 percent or less of area median income affected by wildfires to self-certify eligibility for Low Income Tax Credit housing, thereby cutting their re-housing wait time, the Commission estimates, by at least a week.

  • The South Whidbey Record reports that Island County will join with Whatcom and Skagit counties in a proposed HOME Investment Partnership Consortium.

  • Castle Rock, Kirkland, Kenmore, Chelan, and Tacoma were noted for winning 2014 Association of Washington Cities Municipal Excellence Awards.

  • The Columbian reports that, thanks to Low Income Housing Tax Credits awarded by the Washington Housing Finance Commission, construction will begin later this year on the 15 West Apartments, 120 “permanently-affordable” studio units in downtown Vancouver.

Let the Sun Shine

Finally the newsletter reported that the Washington State Building Code Council has unanimously adopted a recommendation that will save time and money for homeowners wanting to install simple photovoltaic solar systems on their rooftops by no longer requiring the installation to be reviewed by an engineer.  Reflecting a recommendation of the Northwest Solar Communities, the change, says the Department of Commerce, “removes an estimated $500 to $2,500 in project costs and up to eight weeks of wait time for homeowners without compromising structural safety.”  The Council set July 1st as the effective date, but the change will have to go through the full rule-making process, including public hearings, to become permanent.  For more, visit www.commerce.wa.gov/media/Pages/PressReleaseView.aspx?pressreleaseid=168

Look for the Northwest HUDLines newsletter edited by Leland Jones from the Northwest Regional Office of HUD in your "inbox." It covers HUD and housing related items of interest in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. I’m glad I spent a little more time with this issue.

 

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Lynn Nordby

Lynn’s public sector career includes 30 years in local government management and experience in virtually all municipal services including the operations of a wide variety of municipal utilities. He is a Credentialed Manager through the ICMA Voluntary Credentialing program.

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