Panhandle eligible for grants to provide affordable housing

February 11, 2006|By ROBERT SNYDER


A plan to form a regional housing consortium to address the growing problem of affordable housing in the Eastern Panhandle was explained to local leaders Friday by a representative with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD Community Planning and Development Division Director Lynn Daniels met for two hours in Martinsburg with elected and appointed officials from Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties, as well as leaders from Martinsburg, Shepherdstown, Ranson, Charles Town and the Town of Bath to propose banding together as a way to qualify to receive federal HOME Investment Partnership program grant funding.

Daniels said the HOME program is a proven means for providing affordable housing, and funding from the Bush administration continues to grow, even as money for HUD's similar Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program wanes.

"If the president has his way, there's going to be more money in the HOME program and the allocation is going to go up," Daniels said, adding the program is favored over the CDBG program because its results are more immediately evident.


"They're saying this is a good program, and it's needed," Daniels said. "In terms of the overall economy, individuals who are at an income level of moderate and low income are experiencing a more difficult time to secure housing because the price of housing is increasing everywhere you see."

The annual grant program's funds can be used to assist with rehabilitation of older houses, new home and rental housing construction, and rental assistance for tenants, said Walter Haglund, Urban Design Ventures community planning consultant, who joined Daniels at the meeting.

Eligibility in the program is based on Martinsburg's status as a CDBG entitlement community, and the funds could be dispersed as early as July 1, 2007, if officials agreed to participate. Funds are made eligible based on poverty levels, as well as the age and quality of a community's housing supply, according to a draft summary provided at Friday's meeting.

A regional consortium would be required because neither the city nor other local area jurisdictions meet the $500,000 threshold to qualify for HOME funding individually, said Pat McMillan, Martinsburg community development director.

Martinsburg was awarded its CDBG designation in 2004, and received $495,000 that year. This year's allocation will be about $414,000, said McMillan, adding that allowance would not be affected by the city's participation in the HOME program.

All three counties, plus their nine municipalities, would qualify for $619,920 if they form a consortium for 2007, McMillan said.

The HOME program, which includes four other jurisdictional partnerships throughout West Virginia, would require matching funding to enable receipt of HOME dollars, Daniels said. Those matching funds, totaling 25 percent of the grant award minus administrative costs, could come in the form of donated land or labor, bond financing proceeds or from state housing funds. Participants also must set aside 15 percent of their allocations to nonprofit groups for housing development

Individual jurisdictions have until March 1 to indicate their intention to participate in the consortium.

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