A portion of Franklin Street sidewalk funding going to pay for fire prevention kits

Later this week, a task force appointed by City Council to make recommendations for how federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds are spent will meet. Earlier this month, Council agreed to reallocate money a previous task force had opted to spend on a sidewalk on Franklin Street in Belmont, but less than staff had suggested. (staff report)

Erin Atak is the city’s grants coordinator. 

“On January 14, 2021, Charlottesville was found to be noncompliant for the second consecutive year with CDBG requirements,” Atak said. “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] noted that Charlottesville’s lack of spending performance was an issue.” 

Atak said the city receives about $400,000 a year in CDBG funding from HUD and they want it to be be spent within a certain time. Based on the recommendation of a task force, Council selected the sidewalk project and its scope was much bigger than originally anticipated.  The goal right now is to address the timeliness issue.

“By May, the city is required to spend approximately $227,973,” Atak said. 

Atak said the money can be used to address the COVID-19 pandemic. When she sent around an internal request to city departments to see if they had any projects that would fit the bill, the Charlottesville Fire Department had a project to spend $217,200. 

“The Fire Department listed several housing maintenance activities which included smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, stove top fire-stop installation and CPR-assist devices, all of which are HUD-eligible, could meet City Council priorities to provide homeowner rehab, and entitlement funding in the Ridge Street and Belmont priority neighborhoods,” Atak said. 

Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook asked if the balance could be given to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville for their projects on Nassau Street. Atak said that projects that receive federal funding are subject to much more scrutiny, and the money would not be spent in time. 

Snook pushed. 

“I mean, is that something where it’s ‘come on, if someone just pushed the pedal to the metal we can make this happen’, or is it  ‘come on, this is the federal government you’re talking about.’ In other words, how serious is the risk this doesn’t get done if we suggest the money should go to that cause?”

Two members of city staff responded in unison. 

“It’s very serious,” Atak sad 

“It’s very serious,” said Alexander Ikefuna, the city’ interim director of the Office of Community Solutions.” 

Councilor Sena Magill said she supported this use of funding, especially for carbon monoxide detectors which she said the Fire Department often can’t provide.

“It’s one of those things that keeps getting kicked off down the road and whenever the Fire Department has a little extra somewhere, they try to put it into this,” Magill said. “And keeping houses from burning down is a way to keep them affordable, too.” 

Councilor Michael Payne expressed concern about how this information was presented to the elected body. 

“I don’t think the process was adequate enough to feel like I was presented with options to choose from,” Payne said. “I feel a little boxed in in terms of being presented only one option and given this point in this process. That boxing in to make one decision. I do feel like this was a wasted opportunity to at least evaluate and look as a policy option for Council at possible expenditures on vitally needed affordable housing needs.”

To that end, Council opted to spend less money than staff had suggested with $140,585.49 to the Fire Department rather than a higher amount recommended. Councilor Payne still voted no. 

entary School committee presentation (download)

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