DeKalb to receive federal housing funds

By M. Robert Berg

DeKalb is receiving financial aid for affordable housing programs to help poor and homeless people.

In April 1993, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) notified DeKalb Mayor Greg Sparrow that DeKalb had been designated an entitlement community, City Manager Bill Nicklas stated in a report to the mayor and the DeKalb City Council.

“As an entitlement community, the city is eligible to receive an estimated $519,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for the 1994 program year,” Nicklas said.

This opportunity for DeKalb to receive these funds came about after the 1990 census showed commuter patterns from DeKalb County into the Chicagoland area.

These funds are available to DeKalb because of its recent designation as part of the Metropolitan Statistical Area, Nicklas said. Commuter patterns, identified in the census, show enough people in DeKalb County have jobs in the Chicagoland area to warrant an affordable-housing grant.

“When the new census was completed in 1990, it showed we (DeKalb County) now have 20 percent of our working population going into the collar counties and Chicago to work,” said DeKalb Mayor Greg Sparrow. “The largest city in the county becomes eligible for entitlement from the federal government through HUD.”

Before its designation as an entitlement community, DeKalb had to apply for housing funds through the state. “All cities without entitlement money can apply to the state for money left over (from the federal government’s CDBG program),” Sparrow said.

The city council recently worked on a strategy in using the funds at a workshop meeting. One of the steps in designing a strategy was to choose priorities among four general local population groups, Nicklas said.

To assist the council in establishing such priorities, a chart with suggested priorities prepared by the staff, in consultation with the Ad Hoc Citizens Advisory Committee (was given to council members), Nicklas said.

The highest priorities recommended by the staff were programs for the elderly on low incomes, large-related households with low household incomes, existing homeowners with low household incomes and the homeless.

“In general, these suggestions would tend to promote city assistance in the areas of housing rehabilitation, support for transitional housing for the homeless as well as persons with special housing needs and support for rental subsidies or vouchers for homeless families,” Nicklas said.

The citizen’s advisory panel was formed because of federal criteria that states DeKalb citizens had to be involved in the decisions involving the block grant. The consideration to form the committee was passed by the council at the Aug. 19 meeting.

Also, the city had to decide whether to use the grant in specific areas of DeKalb or take a city wide approach.

“We chose the city approach, because we don’t have any specific areas in what you would consider a blighted condition,” Sparrow said. “We did identify six areas to concentrate on, but the money will be used city wide.”

“Before we receive the grant, we have to submit a five-year Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS),” Sparrow said. “In this strategy we have to show how we intend to use the money to achieve the goals laid out by federal policy.”

Sparrow said the money does have a broad application, but at least 70 percent has to be used for low to moderate income people.

The grant will be around $519,000, Sparrow said. “We’ll know for sure after our CHAS program is approved,” he said. “It could be more or less, depending on how much funding Congress approves.”