Douglas County divies up block-grant funds

County officials concerned about HUD rules

Posted 10/18/15

Sixteen organizations in Douglas County — many focusing on helping families with housing and to avoid homelessness — will receive funding from the 2015 Community Development Block Grant program through Douglas County.

“There is very much a …

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Douglas County divies up block-grant funds

County officials concerned about HUD rules

Posted

Sixteen organizations in Douglas County — many focusing on helping families with housing and to avoid homelessness — will receive funding from the 2015 Community Development Block Grant program through Douglas County.

“There is very much a need in the community for these services,” Commissioner David Weaver said.

The $889,370 was available to organizations in unincorporated Douglas County, Lone Tree, Parker, Castle Rock and Castle Pines for the 2015 program year. The programs were approved June 8, through the application process with the county, but Douglas County commissioners voted again Oct. 13 to approve fund distribution.

“The (federal) government has been slow releasing these dollars,” said Terence Quinn, director of community development for Douglas County.

Among countywide recipients is Douglas/Elbert Task Force, which will receive $18,405 to provide emergency rent assistance to families and individuals in economic crisis to help them emain in their homes and avoid homelessness; $16,000 to provide emergency utility assistance to eligible clients at risk of homelessness; and $5,000 to provide emergency overnight lodging assistance to the homeless, transients and victims of abuse and crime.

The Douglas County Housing Partnership,  a multi-Jurisdictional Housing Authority which connects businesses, local and county government to address the issue of the lack of affordable housing for people who work in the area will receive $310,000 for its Supportive Housing program.

“We have for the last 10 years been able to offer down payment assistance to first-time home buyers using these funds — we’ve added 10 families per year using CDBG funds,” said Diane Leavesley, executive director of the Douglas County Housing Partnership. “What we’re doing is making it possible for young families to own their first home in the county and essentially become long-term citizens. I see a lot of value in what we’re doing.”

The Town of Castle Rock also will receive $50,000 from the 2015 funds to reconstruct existing surfaces for several downtown alleyways using ADA-accessible materials.

Looking at 2016

In August, the Town of Castle Rock was given the option to become an entitlement community for the 2016 CDBG program, which would allow it to receive and disburse $212,000 directly to Castle Rock programs. The town also could have remained a grantee under Douglas County for 2016, which meant the town and organizations based in Castle Rock could continue to apply for funding through the county CDBG program.

But because the Castle Rock Town Council declined participation in the 2016 program altogether, Larkspur will take the town’s place in Douglas County’s 2016 program.

“There are many in the community who have brought a lot issues concerning receiving federal dollars from HUD (Housing and Urban Development) to our attention as of late,” Quinn said, while addressing the commission. “They urge us not to take the funds. There’s claims that there are too many strings attached and that funding may threaten our communities, our living choices or even our local control. The county, I’m glad to say, has many of the same concerns as our community members.”

The county’s principal concern with the 2016 CDBG program is the new fair housing assessment tool. All communities that participate the in the 2016 program must use the new tool.

“We’re all a little worried at this point in time — staff members and members of the community — because this is a very confusing thing that HUD has dropped on us,” Quinn said.

The county sent a letter to HUD on Aug. 17 identifying concerns with the new tool.

One section of the four-page letter reads, “After reviewing the contributing factors identified in the tool, we find many to be contradictory in nature. Addressing one contributing factor may actually create barriers to furthering fair housing in another contributing factor.”

The letter requested HUD make improvements and adjustments.

“The tool is obviously broken and needs to be fixed or even eliminated from consideration in the future,” Quinn said.

But despite the problems, Douglas County has not decided yet to walk away. The final decision to accept federal funds for the 2016 year had not been made yet.

“Not taking federal funds doesn’t absolve us from having to uphold the 1968 Fair Housing Act,” Quinn said. “The assessment tool, I’m afraid, could become a platform for some special-interest lawsuits that we quite frankly may not be able to win. The county could actively draw attention to itself by walking away. So, we choose to fight and take a methodical step-by-step approach to trying to fix this before we walk away.”

Another argument Douglas County staff had for staying in the program is that that funds disbursed through CDBG are federal tax dollars being returned to the community.

“If we can get them back to our community after we paid into them, it makes a lot of sense to find ways to continue to receive them,” Quinn said. “Walking away may literally leave residents out in the cold. They are part of our community and we will not turn our backs on them. We will not punish them because of HUD’s ridiculous rules.”

CDBG funds, Douglas County, Colorado, Douglas/Elbert Task Force, David Weaver, Douglas County Housing Partnership, HUD, Shanna Fortier

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