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Affordable housing, mental health services tapped as needs for Santa Maria block grant funding

Affordable housing, mental health services tapped as needs for Santa Maria block grant funding

Originally posted on Santa Maria Times

Affordable housing, work opportunities for the homeless, mental health services and assistance for victims of sexual assault were among top priorities of community members who attended a public meeting Monday to determine a spending plan for federal block grant dollars.

Each year Santa Maria receives a block of money from the federal government’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Local nonprofits and organizations seeking to receive a portion of the hundreds of thousands of dollars submit applications which are then reviewed by the Block Grant Advisory Committee, a 15-member board made up of volunteers.

Past grants have been awarded to help fund improvements at Russell Park, the renovation and expansion of a teen center at the Boys & Girls Club and to aid GRID Alternatives, an organization that puts solar panels in the homes of low- to moderate-income community members. Another project that has received CDBG money from the city is the new location of the Santa Maria Wisdom Center, located at 2255 Depot St. That project, which provides adult day care services for seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other debilitating conditions, received a $193,500 grant from the city.

During Monday’s Block Grant Advisory Committee meeting at the Santa Maria Public Library — which was attended by 18 people — board members voted 10-0 to recommend the City Council leave the 2018-19 priorities unchanged in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The funding priorities for 2018-19 include preventing homelessness, addressing at-risk youth and special population needs, expanding educational and youth development opportunities, providing affordable housing and revitalizing existing neighborhoods.

The City Council — which has the final say on the city’s action plan priorities — will consider the advisory committee's recommendation at a future meeting, said Rosie Rojo, community programs manager.

On Monday, around 10 people — including representatives from Catholic Charities of Santa Maria, the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center, Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, the Boys & Girls Club and other organizations — voiced what they believed the city’s needs are. 

The needs included more affordable housing, work opportunities for the homeless, pet care for service dogs, funding to assist seniors and their caregivers, mental health counseling and funding to assist victims of sexual assault. 

Block Grant Advisory Committee Chair Tim Seifert said the testimony — aside from a request to support a pet care service animals proposal — didn’t show any needs not already covered for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

“I didn’t hear any reason why we should change the priorities,” Committee member Greg Burnett said.

The 2019-20 action plan — which lays out how the city's CDBG money will be spent — will be released by the city in May, Rojo said.

The amount of money available for the city to disperse each year varies depending on what the federal government grants. For the 2018-19 fiscal year, the city received $1.5 million, Rojo said. The money is divided into public service grants, which provide funds to different sorts of nonprofit organizations, or capital projects, which involve construction.

Federal rules designate 15 percent of the funds are to be used for public service grants and 65 percent are to be used for capital projects. The remaining 20 percent is earmarked to cover administrative costs.

Public service grants are typically between $10,000 to $20,000 while grants for capital projects are generally over $100,000, Rojo said.