Administrators of Cobb’s Community Development Block Grant Program are accepting public comments through Aug. 26 on its proposed $3.9 million budget. Comments can be made at www.cobbcounty.org/cdbg.
The Cobb Board of Commissioners will vote on the budget at 7 p.m. Aug. 27 at 100 Cherokee St.
The grant program is run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Michael Hughes, director of Cobb’s Office of Economic Development, says Cobb has received more than $99 million in block grant funds since 1982 when the county was designated as a HUD Entitlement Community.
“Because of this high dollar amount, the CDBG program has had an enormous impact on the (low to moderate income) population within unincorporated Cobb County and its fair share participating cities, which include Acworth, Austell, Kennesaw (and) Powder Springs,” Hughes said.
Marietta and Smyrna receive funding directly from the federal housing department.
Funding starting to increase
The $3.9 million Cobb is set to receive is about $352,000 more than what the county got last year.
In 2006, the county was receiving $4 million. That amount started declining consistently in 2008 as the federal program felt the effects of the Great Recession, said Kimberly Roberts, managing director of the program in Cobb.
“This year we were very surprised to see that it’s $3.9 million,” Roberts said. “Maybe we’re starting to see an increase in the market.”
Hughes says the program allows local governments to provide decent housing, suitable living environments and expand economic opportunities.
Cobb has repaired aging infrastructure in low-income areas, developed a network of senior centers and health centers, and built new parks and neighborhood centers.
Grant helps community groups
About 14 nonprofit organizations are in line for the federal money.
Cobb is allowed to spend up to 15 percent of the grant on public services, but typically spends less than that, said Erica Fambrow, deputy director of the program.
MUST Ministries, a Christian group that helps low-income individuals get on their feet, is one of those groups set to receive cash from the public services portion of the grant.
Kelley Henderson, vice president and chief programs officer, says the $33,000 the organization will receive benefits the Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program that provides temporary, partial assistance for low-income individuals in Cobb.
Though the majority of the program’s funding comes from the Home Investment Partnership Program, also administered by HUD, the money from the block grant is vital, he said.
“Without this program, many households in Cobb County who are facing housing insecurity could easily slip into homelessness,” Henderson said.
It’s not the first time MUST Ministries has received funding from a block grant. The group purchased its Marietta headquarters and a service center from block grant money.
The money isn’t just a boost to the organization. It’s helpful for the community at large, Henderson said.
“These grants help community organizations like MUST to make investments in their community that will pay dividends for years to come,” he said.
Holly Tuchman, chief executive officer of the YWCA of Northwest Georgia, agrees.
“It’s, I believe, money that is put to very good use to help the citizens of this community,” Tuchman said.
The YWCA was promised $1 million from the block grant program four years ago.
It will receive its fourth installment of $200,000 this year to improve the group’s infrastructure.
Its main facility has been renovated and its domestic violence shelter, the only one in Cobb, is undergoing a remodel.
“It had a lot of great uses, but we felt that we needed to have it more aligned with what our mission is and that’s to provide services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Tuchman said.
Built in 1980, the 32-bed shelter has served more than 9,000 women and children. When the renovation is complete, the shelter will have 40 beds.
Tuchman says the block grant will help the shelter become a more comfortable place for families looking to move to the next stage of their lives.
Critic says ‘strings attached’
Not everyone is on board with the idea of Cobb participating in the block grant.
Jan Barton, an east Cobb resident, is concerned about a new policy proposed by the federal housing department that encourages diversity in communities. Under the program, recipients would be required to complete an assessment of fair housing showing the department how they have furthered the Fair Housing Act.
The idea is to overcome historic patterns of segregation and reduce disparity by race, ethnicity or sex, among other barriers to fair housing.
Recipients of the grant have long been required to prove they follow the Fair Housing Act, said Roberts, director of Cobb’s block grant.
“This has been in existence for a while, but they are now giving it teeth,” Roberts said.
Barton fears the proposal would give the federal government a means to control neighborhoods.
“What we don’t want to see is, ‘Oh, I don’t like the way this looks and no one was for it … but I’m going to change it,’” Barton said at a public hearing on the grant budget Thursday.
She maintains there are always “strings attached” to federal funds and she doesn’t like not knowing what the future could hold.
“We would just like to know how this would affect us,” Barton said.