The hope of obtaining a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to help low income residents pay for new sidewalks and curbs was dashed at a meeting yesterday with representatives from the Northampton County Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).
It was disheartening to me to discover that those in our community who could have benefited from grant assistance won’t be provided any help to fix their walks and curbs.
The federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program provides funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that allows the County of Northampton Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) to assist in the development of viable communities, by funding activities that assist people with low incomes in meeting their needs for housing or services. One objective of any DCED funded programs is the knowledge that low income people are indeed benefiting from the investment of CDBG resources.
Basically, a community project that benefits the entire community, such as enhancements to parks and common areas is going to get a grant before a project that addresses problems of individual homeowner properties. Especially when grant money is going to be in short supply.
Mr. Tim Herrlinger, Director of DCED, along with Mr. Frank Brooks, attended the meeting with myself, Councilman Dan DePaul and Councilman Henry Nodoline representing West Easton. Mr. Brooks is DCED’s resident expert for HUD and CDBG programs, and manages everything along the grant cycle, from application guidelines to contracts to monitoring and close-out reports.
What I perceived from the discussion was that not only was grant money for resident sidewalks a low priority, it was also a minefield of pitfalls to navigate successfully, requiring residents to provide financial information, filing necessary paperwork on each property, and the Borough to be involved in distribution of monies and accountability.
There was also a concern that with the proposed slashing of grant money from the federal government under the Trump administration, this may be the last chance the DCED has to see some major projects within all of Northampton County be completed with the help of grants, further lowering the priority of helping residents with individual sidewalks, as they look for projects that benefit the entire community.
Grants from the federal government being reduced, as well as Governor Wolf’s proposed budget could have a chilling effect on community development throughout all of Pennsylvania, if the Trump and Wolf budget proposals are passed as written.
Pivoting to take advantage of a grant West Easton is more likely to receive, it was decided to target a community park for development.
Additional sidewalks for Gerald W. Gross Community Park, as part of our original application will remain intact. If a CDBG Grant is approved, sidewalks would be added along 5th Street and Spring Street along the park. If that is completed, West Easton can then apply for handicap accessibility improvements to the park during any future round of grants.
Though taxpayer money for grants to communities might be reduced, I’m sure some will be comforted knowing that paying for their own sidewalk repairs is going to help build a really nice wall along the Mexican border.