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Travis eyes new CDBG projects, tries to avoid HUD censure

Thursday, June 11, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Despite an order from the federal government to implement its Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) on a timely basis, Travis County Health and Human Services staff said Tuesday that it’s unlikely they will meet that deadline.


Travis County Commissioners were updated on the county’s CDBG program Tuesday by Sherri Fleming, executive manager of Health and Human Services and Veterans Services and Christy Moffett, CDBG Senior Planner.


Fleming told commissioners that the HHS department is currently implementing three years worth of projects. Two projects are finished, one should finish this month, four projects are underway and three have yet to begin, she said.


The federal Housing and Urban Development requires a timeliness assessment 10 months into a grant year, which occurs each July for Travis County. Currently, Travis County is under federal sanctions for non-compliance with timeliness. The county is required to have no more than 1.5 times the current year’s allocation unspent. As of June 2, the county had 2.4 time the allocation unspent.  Moffett told commissioners she expects $866,432 in federal CDBG money for this year.


Fleming’s memo said that despite an “established work out plan” aimed at bringing the county into compliance by this July, meeting such a goal now seems “unlikely.” The county is behind on the land acquisition, home rehabilitation and analysis of impediments to fair housing choice projects, she said.


On March 10, Travis County sent a commissioner-approved letter to HUD explaining the tardiness and asking to revise the work out plan for a 2010 compliance date. HUD has since asked for more information, including the Program Year 2009 Action Plan. The Action Plan is due August 15 and must abide by certain restrictions. A minimum of 65 percent of the estimate $866,000 must be spent on Housing and Community Development projects, 20 percent can go toward Administration and Planning costs, and 15 percent for Public Services.


Commissioners were also briefed on the five public meetings HHS hosted to determine the needs of the county. Through this and other efforts, HHS collected eight proposals. According to Fleming’s memo, street improvements, water/wastewater, home repair and youth services “continue to be pressing needs identified in the public participation process.”


County staff recommended six projects. The largest proportion of the expected funds, 85 percent, would be directed toward Community Development projects. Of those, homebuyer assistance netted $528,000 with another $130,000 proposed for Homeowner Rehabilitation—repairs to homes. The homebuyer assistance program is expected to make 35 houses more affordable while the rehab will impact five homes. Lava Lane improvements make up the rest of the $718,000.


It is possible that HUD could reduce Travis’ funding over the course of three years as a result of two years of noncompliance. Fleming’s memo said there were three routes to timeliness: reducing the large carry over balances in Administration and Planning and Public Services; more carefully planned and phased infrastructure projects and continuing to create templates for contracts. Assuming these projects are funded by the county, Fleming and her staff estimate that by May 2010 the county will have a 1.37 ratio of money allocated to money spent.


Although commissioners did not vote to move forward with any of the projects, the county is operating under a tight deadline. The projects must be approved next week and the Draft PY09 Action Plan needs to be approved by June 23 so a 30-day comment period can take place before the August 5 deadline for court approval of the final Action Plan.

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