At a town hall Thursday, Pontiac residents got a chance to learn more about an annual federal grant known as the Community Development Block Grant, which last year provided more than $800,000 for community improvement projects. the city.
Thursday’s meeting was the first of two town halls for Pontiac residents, aimed at eliciting their thoughts and ideas on the best ways to use federal money; explaining how spending decisions are made and how the city plans to shift control of money from Oakland County to city hall.
Alexandra Borngesser, the city’s director of grants and philanthropy, led a presentation with Rachel Loughrin, the city’s director of community development; Renee Hall, provides a compliance analyst; and Michael Martin, grants coordinator.
Renee Hall said CDBG funds are specifically for the benefit of low-income people and those with special needs by eliminating slums and disease or addressing an urgent need. The city cannot use the grant to write checks to individuals, build new homes, pay city expenses for operations or maintenance, or purchase construction equipment.
Since 1974, the federal Community Development Grants (CDBG) program has awarded annual grants to states, cities, and counties. The amount of each grant is based on a formula that aims to help urban communities – places with substantial low- to moderate-income families – maintain good housing standards and living conditions while expanding economic opportunity. The grants are awarded through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which requires each government entity to follow strict rules for managing the money.
Borngesser said the county has managed Pontiac’s CDBG funds since the city was under emergency management. Before the emergency manager era, city officials had not met HUD standards for managing funds, such as making accountability reports, so the city office was disbanded.
Now, with plans for the city to resume managing the funds, Borngesser said they are rebuilding the department so the city can meet federal accountability standards.
“Compliance is the name of our game,” she told residents.
Borngesser said the county keeps about 20% of the annual grant to cover administrative costs. She said grant amounts are set each year by federal officials based on several criteria.
Municipalities aim to give more people a voice in how CDBG funds are spent. Borngesser said the city council approves the plans after a public hearing where people can voice their opinions on the subject.
The town halls are not required by HUD, but are an effort by city officials to hear from more residents, Mayor Tim Greimel said. He said the city has hosted more than 20 town halls on various topics since January.
Some residents stayed after the meeting to talk with city officials and fill out a paper survey asking about CDBG spending priorities.
Robert Bass, a former school board member, said the most important factor in reinstating CDBG management in the city is making sure residents’ voices are heard.
The next CDBG town hall is from 6 to 7 pm at Pontiac City Hall 47450 Woodward Ave. and includes time for public questions and brainstorming. The paper survey is available at and online at https://lp.constantcontactpages.com/sv/NvbpJsR?source_id=784debac-f400-408e-8a39-17f12f867d5c&source_type=em&c=4ClAfNgsSNPLI7OFMGaT=4ClAfNgsSNPLI7OFMGaT. A video of Thursday’s town hall is on the city’s YouTube page, https://www.facebook.com/pontiaccityhall/videos/122750671448087.