Pleasant surprise with housing and blight funding in Merced

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJuly 22, 2013 

— The city will see a 1 percent decrease in federal funding for housing and blight in 2013.

Merced City Council adopted a plan Monday for U.S. Housing and Urban Development funding, which provided the city with $1.29 million in grants.

Estimates in May had the amount dropping by as much as 8 percent.

"I was pleasantly surprised it hadn't decreased as much as we anticipated," Councilman Bill Blake said.

Any amount of money is welcome, Blake said.

HUD awarded Merced $940,877 in Community Block Grant funding and $354,454 in Home Investment Partnership money.

HUD money pays for graffiti cleanup, building rehabilitation and housing for people with special needs, among other programs.

Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling said HUD funding is vital for helping community-based organizations.

"It's just another tool to improve the overall quality of life in our community," Rawling said, adding the city couldn't afford such programs on its own.

About $497,000 is set aside to assist homeowners and landlords upgrade properties to improve health and safety conditions. The plan targets three areas where more than 25 percent of the neighborhoods show signs of blight.

Mayor Stan Thurston said HUD money is critical for rehabilitating homes that are likely beyond the point of being repaired by private investors trying to turn a profit.

A blighted home in a nice neighborhood draws down the value of the whole block, Thurston said.

"That's more what we're looking for, something that's causing an issue in a neighborhood," he said.

The council got final say on the $43,632 in HUD funding to be divided among seven qualified applicants for public service activities.

Thurston said he would have preferred the money go to youth and homeless programs within Merced, and not include countywide groups.

Rawling said the decision to include more nonprofits was a way to benefit as many of the diverse groups as possible.

City Council voted to divvy the cash among seven nonprofit programs: Valley Crisis Center's domestic violence program, $10,000; Merced County Rescue Mission's warming center, $3,700; Merced County Community Action Agency's rapid rehousing, $10,000; Boys and Girls Club's summer youth program, $10,000; Healthy House's Ethnic Elders Transportation program, $3,000; and Merced Lao Family Community Inc.'s youth cultural activity program, $6,932.

Councilman Josh Pedrozo said it's unfortunate there wasn't more money to go around.

"All the programs were admirable," Pedrozo said. "It was such a small amount of money. It was hard to grant everybody everything they need."

Within the plan for HUD dollars is $38,000 for the Continuum of Care 10-year Plan to End Homelessness.

Since 2003, the Merced County Association of Governments has assisted with applying for federal grants for homeless programs through Continuum of Care. MCAG officials said in April they plan to cut ties with the program because reporting requirements have become a burden.

In June, MCAG staff recommended subcontracting Continuum of Care to Jeanette Garcia, an administrative analyst and MCAG employee. The MCAG governing board is set to vote Thursday on whether to give her the contract.

Garcia's compensation would be $78,000 a year, the same amount MCAG receives: $40,000 from Merced County and $38,000 from the city of Merced.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or by email at tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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