Sherman officials said the change of focus for its Community Development Block Grant funds is an effort to move from making a neighborhood impact to a community impact.
After the Sherman City Council approved the action plan for the CDBG Program funds for publication earlier this month, Assistant City Manager Steve Ayers gave a more detailed discussion of how the funds would be utilized during the council’s budget workshop last week. For the 2018-2019 fiscal year, Sherman is set to receive $368,334 in CDBG funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address the needs of the city’s low- to moderate-income citizens.
The plan shows $183,000, which is just under 50 percent of the total CDBG funds to be received, will be used for park improvements in Sherman. Last year, the city put $180,000 of the funds toward owner-occupied housing rehabilitation.
“There’s a big shift in allocation away from individual rehab, but with that said, we are retaining funds in that fund that we carry over from this year,” Ayers said. “Going into next year, we should have about $90,000 (available) in (housing) rehab, so if there are those worthy projects and we think people have an individual need for an individual house, we do have money available.”
The housing repairs program assists low- to moderate-income homeowners with bringing their properties up to code and is limited to $5,000 per home.
“We are shifting emphasis away from the individual rehab, which tended, kind of, to move into an entitlement program,” Ayers said. “If someone gets some money for a hot water heater, they expect the next year, ‘I’ve got to get some windows replaced. My roof is leaking.’ Pretty soon they’re like ‘You need to send me a check every year.’”
Ayers said city staff decided to focus on programs officials believe would impact the community as a whole rather than individuals.
“We are moving away from that for this year,” Ayers said of the housing rehab program. “And you know, every year you re-evaluate. This year, we’ve got this plan. Next year, we can see how things went. Was it the direction we want to go? If not, you adjust it and allocate your funds where you need it.”
City Manager Robby Hefton said the city wanted to use the funds in a way that offers a broader community approach.
“We’re really getting from an individual focus of this program to a community-wide focus, is what it amounts to,” he said. “When we changed the focus to community-wide, where we’re talking about parks all over town. We feel like we can just reach a broader segment of the community by changing our focus here. And it’s just for one year right now, we re-evaluate this every year.”
After council member Shawn Teamann asked about the origin of the $90,000 available for individual housing rehabilitation from previous years, Ayers explained a “good chunk” was spent last year.
“We spent quite of bit of that, but again, this year, we started moving over to other projects, so it slowed down spending that,” Ayers said.
Hefton said the $90,000 was from monies that were specifically earmarked for housing rehab in previous years.
“It accumulates and you use the earliest years first and use all that money,” Hefton said, explaining the city has five years to spend the money. “We don’t usually have trouble spending anything in that five-year period.”
In addition to the funds being earmarked for city parks, Sherman is putting $100,000 toward its substandard structure program to demolish vacant buildings that don’t meet city standards and then clear the properties.
“On the demolition/cleanup program, we’ve increased that, which we believe that’s certainly consistent with council priorities and what we’re looking to do as far as cleanup,” Ayers said of the city’s substandard structure program.
As part of an update on prior initiatives the city has taken on, city staff noted that 47 structures were demolished in 2017, including stormwater projects, and a new coordinator was hired for the program — Neighborhood Quality Coordinator Chip Matthews.
“We feel that that’s going to increase tremendously,” Ayers said of the demolitions. “We’re talking about next year, maybe 100 or more. And it could grow from there.”
The assistant city manager told the council Matthews did a lot of work for years in Gainesville and Commerce, where he helped take down thousands of substandard homes.
“Even in a smaller community like Commerce, literally they took down like 3,000 structures,” Ayers said. “That kind of tells you what we can accomplish. He knows the system so well because he’s an instructor — he’s instructed most of our code enforcement people and that’s really going to benefit us here.”
Ayers said he feels the substandard structure program is really going to take off on Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins and the CDBG fund become available.
Program administration will use $51,034 from the grant to allow city staff to oversee the application processes, contract management and various duties related to the distribution of the funds. The Sherman Housing Authority will receive $10,000 of the funds to address problems arising from drug abuse and associated crime in the city’s public housing areas. The Grayson Crisis Center will get $8,000 to help women and children, who have lived in the Sherman city limits, dealing with domestic violence. The Child & Family Guidance Center of Texoma will get $6,000 for counseling services related to substance, domestic and sexual abuse, among other services, and the Grayson County Shelter will get $5,500 to assist homeless families and individuals who once lived in Sherman. The Sherman Boys & Girls Club will receive the last $4,800 to help with scholarships for children of low- to moderate-income families living in Sherman.
“All of them worthy projects that really impact the community,” Ayers said of how the remaining funds will be distributed. “These are all good things. We’ve bumped a little bit of this up, I believe. I believe we’re headed in the right direction.”
The $368,334 Sherman is set to receive in the new fiscal year is the most it has ever received from the CDBG program, Director of Finance Mary Lawrence said. When asked how HUD determines the allocation, Lawrence said as far as she knows “they pull a number out of the air.”
“Our contact at HUD initially said, ‘I think the program, you may not get anything for 2019,’” Lawrence said. “And we got more than we’ve ever gotten.”