Merced council to simplify HUD paperwork

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 8, 2013 

— The Merced City Council approved a new plan aimed at making it easier for citizens to get involved in planning for Department of Housing and Urban Development funding after a recommendation from the agency.

Mark Hamilton, a housing specialist for the city, said Merced's plan has traditionally been buried somewhere inside a large document used for long-term planning.

"It was kind of hard to find at times," he said, adding that HUD recommended a more accessible document.

The 13-page Citizen Participation Plan includes the list of public notices the city will send out, and also what changes require a public hearing, among other practices.

Hamilton said city staff plans to roll out an online application process in November. The site will lay out the requirements that nonprofits or developers should know before deciding to apply for Community Development Block Grants or Home Investment Partnerships Program money.

Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling questioned whether the city does enough to notify non-English speakers.

The city is required to provide interpretation at HUD meetings, as long as the person making the request does so before the meeting.

"I think the spirit of it is we've got to really put it out there in places where people get information," she said. "We have to be active about that."

Frank Quintero, Merced's economic development director, said the city publishes public notices in Hmong, Spanish and English newspapers.

However, he said many of the HUD documents have not been translated. The city is moving toward translating some of the shorter documents into languages other than English, he said.

"The turn around time is very slow, because we don't have many (interpreters) on staff," Quintero said, adding that hiring an outside service can be pricy.

In July, the council got the final say on the $43,632 in HUD funding divided among seven applicants for public service activities.

The 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.

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

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