Local HUD-funded programs to see deep cuts

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C'erra Rhodes works on a word puzzle at Computers4Kids. Students from low-income families get mentoring help at the Charlottesville nonprofit, which relies on dwindling support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Photo: Annalee Grant C'erra Rhodes works on a word puzzle at Computers4Kids. Students from low-income families get mentoring help at the Charlottesville nonprofit, which relies on dwindling support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Photo: Annalee Grant

A Cherry Avenue crosswalk connecting residents to a busy park. New affordable housing units. An after-school study and job-prep program for city kids.

The effects of federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grants can be seen all over Charlottesville. But with a range of HUD programs on the chopping block and facing cuts of up to 50 percent this year, many projects—housing and otherwise—are facing a serious squeeze.

Each year HUD doles out grant money based on census figures. In 2010, Charlottesville received $1,007,754 from the HOME Program, which designates funds for affordable housing projects. That amount has been cut to $534,766 in 2013. The Community Development Block Grant Program, a HUD funding source that supports a number of local efforts that go beyond the scope of housing, brought $579,630 in 2010 and has fallen to only $407,522 this year.

City of Charlottesville Grants Coordinator Melissa Thackston has the difficult job of deciding which programs will be funded each year. She said that because many area nonprofits use the federal funds as matching dollars to leverage other funding from different sources, the loss of HUD money creates a domino effect.

“It’s a sort of double-cut for our community,” she said.

The Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust, which offers housing assistance to families earning 80 percent less than the area median income, was able to build four affordable housing units since 2008, thanks to an initial grant from the HOME Program that they were able to use to match other funds.

Frazier Bell, chair of the TJCLT board, said the trust wouldn’t be here without those initial funds.

“The fact that all these funds are drying up and going away is going to be an extreme hardship on not just us,” he said.

While $1 million from HUD may not seem like a huge number, only 15 percent of the dwindling funding can go to social programs that rely heavily on the extra revenue. Thackston is worried about the impacts.

“Logically we can assume the number of people that will receive help will be cut in half,” she said.

At Computers4Kids on Second Avenue SE, some of those people—local teenage students who qualify for free and reduced lunch—gather regularly for technology and job skills training. Three years of HUD grants have helped the center expand its mentoring services to high schoolers, offering computer classes and job interview skills. Before that, said Kala Somerville, the organization’s executive director, the program ended after eighth grade.

“We were cutting them loose at a time in their lives that was very difficult,” Somerville said.

And while the Community Block Grant funds are still flowing to Computers4Kids, these days, a dollar spent in one place amounts to a dollar less for another group attempting to give poorer residents a leg up.

That leaves a big question for Thackston as she sorts through grant applications each year, divvying up the increasingly scant federal support: “Do you want to fund one project and make a really big impact, or do you want to spread those funds out?”—Annalee Grant

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