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City sees increased interest in community development grant

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A dwindling federal grant for community development seems to be stoking a growing amount of attention from individuals and organizations in Burlington.

This inverse relationship between interest and available funding was in full view last week when Burlington’s city council received a routine update on this Community Development Block Grant.

A long-running initiative of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, this grant has provided Burlington and other urban centers with a diminishing supply of revenue to fund affordable housing, home renovations, public infrastructure, and various services to low-income areas.

Yet, the grant’s generally diminishing size doesn’t appear to have suppressed interest in this annual subsidy – at last not according to Michael Blair, a consultant with the Triad Piedmont Regional Council, who manages the grant on the city’s behalf.

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Michael Blair

During a presentation to the city council last Monday, Blair acknowledged that the general public had turned out in reassuringly robust numbers for a trio of public meetings that he and his colleagues conducted earlier this year about the city’s plans for the grant.

“We actually had really good citizen participation,” Blair told the council that evening, “and there was a lot of good feedback from that.”

Blair went on to concede that the first two public meetings witnessed a relatively unimpressive turnout of ten and six attendees, respectively. Yet, the third meeting, which Blair had convened at the council’s behest on April 10, boasted a much more substantial audience of 28 people – due, in no small part, to the efforts of Jackie Vanhook, a local nonprofit administrator who had volunteered to help Blair organize the event.

Jackie Vanhook

A day later, the council heard directly from Vanhook about the community meeting.

“It went great,” she said during a public hearing about the city’s plans for the grant, “and I like to see things like this [continue to] go on.”

Vanhook was ultimately just one of two people who addressed the council during last Tuesday’s public hearing. The hearing’s other participant was local minister Greg Hargraves, who is currently developing an affordable housing subdivision off of Burlington’s Apple Street.

Greg Hargraves

During his time at the podium, Hargraves reminded the council that, for a couple of years now, a portion of Burlington’s share of the block grant has gone toward the installation of public infrastructure at this so-called Apple Ridge development. He urged the council to continue the tradition with the grant’s latest allocation of about $458,000, which is down $12,000 from the previous year’s sum of roughly $470,000.

At the moment, the grant’s budget includes $370,680 for various infrastructure projects, including $50,000 for curbs, gutters, and street paving at Apple Ridge. These funds, which are beefed up by $100,000 from the grant’s prior allotments, also include $50,000 for a restroom at the CityGate Dream Center, $50,000 for parking lot upgrades at Ralph Scott Life Services, $14,596 to complete a childcare area at Sustainable Alamance, and $5,984 to fence in a community garden in the Morrowtown neighborhood – as well as $100,000 to renovate restrooms at Burlington’s City and Fairchild parks and $100,000 to install sidewalks in areas that will ultimately be based on public input.

The grant’s latest budget also includes $70,601 for programs and initiatives of assorted agencies and nonprofit organizations. This total, which has been pared back from last year’s figure of $85,949, has been tentatively split among 10 applicants – with a maximum of $7,929.30 set aside for any single recipient.

This maximum figure is presently slated to go to Allied Churches of Alamance County, the Burlington Development Corporation, the CityGate Dream Center, Residential Treatment Services, the Women’s Resource Center, and “Tax Time” – a tax preparation service from the local United Way. Meanwhile, another $4,523 has been earmarked for the Exchange Clubs’ Family Center, while the Salvation Army is set to receive $5,286.20 apiece for its Food Pantry and its Boys and Girl’s Club. In each case, the proposed allocation reflects a prorated portion of an organization’s initial request, which had been capped at a maximum of $15,000.

In addition to these line item allocations, the grant’s proposed budget roughly $90,000 for administrative expenses. The budget also proposes to reinvest $255,000 from a revolving loan program that funds home rehabilitation – with another $45,000 in program revenue earmarked for administration.

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