HUD Spending $70 Million to Teach Grant Recipients How to Spend Money They Already Have

Amanda Swysgood | June 11, 2012 | 5:22am EDT
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( At one federal agency, it takes money to spend money. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced it is spending $70 million to improve the way its grant recipients spend billions in taxpayer cash.

Most of the $70 million will go to consulting companies that provide “technical assistance” to HUD-funded communities and non-profit organizations. The consultants will help the communities and nonprofits “improve their use of federal funds to revitalize neighborhoods, help the homeless and produce more affordable housing,” a May 15 new release said. asked a HUD official, “If I’m reading this correctly, this is a grant to teach people how to spend money they already have?”

“Absolutely,” responded HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan.

He said the $70 million is being spent to “amplify” the already-existing community development block grants handed out by HUD. In fiscal year 2012, those bock grants totalled around $3-billion.

The extra $70-million -- provided through HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development -- will help communities and non-profits “ensure that scarce federal dollars are targeted to where they are needed most,” HUD Assistant Secretary Mercedes Marquez said in a news release.

“The grants we award today will go a long way toward ensuring federally funded community development, affordable housing and homeless assistance work to make the greatest possible impact,” she added.

The HUD news release mentioned “a budget climate where state and local governments are challenged to do more with less.”

HUD’s Sullivan told, “Oftentimes, when you just deal with your own local community, you don’t take a wider look at the -- maybe the regional needs of a place.”

Sullivan noted that in many parts of the country, for the sake of efficiency, a city and a county might want to join forces and take a more “strategic look at what their community development and affordable housing needs are.”

“We’re talking about local jurisdictions working with each other in a local way to confront what could be an area-wide problem or a challenge,” he said.

He also indicated that some of the 1,200 communities and nonprofits that receive HUD grants do a better job than others when it comes to spending the money in a way that fulfills community housing needs.  “There (are) 1,200 places (receiving community development block grants), and so some, as you can imagine, do it better than others. They are very sophisticated.”

Organizations getting slices of the $70 million include the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), which is getting $2 million.

“HUD will rely on the MHP team to provide technical assistance to recipients of HUD grants to ensure that organizations take full advantage of HUD programs and comply with federal regulations,” MHP said in a news release.

“In addition to supporting affordable housing, the MHP team will help U.S. communities with planning for economic development and infrastructure, construction management, sustainable design and natural resource protection, and organizational development.”

“This award recognizes Minnesota Housing Partnership’s leadership in helping communities nationwide utilize federal resources to ensure that lower-income families have access to housing they can afford, and that blighted areas are revitalized,” said Chip Halbach, MHP’s executive director.

Leigh Rosenberg, MHP’s research and outreach manager, told, “Our current projects with HUD are to provide technical assistance to organizations and communities which have received HUD funding. Our work helps ensure that the use of HUD funding is efficient, effective, meets local needs, and follows HUD guidelines.”

In fiscal year 2013, HUD is requesting $3.143 billion for its Community Development Fund (CDF), which is an overall reduction of $165 million compared with the fiscal year 2012 appropriated level of $3.3 billion.

The amount dedicated to the Community Development Block Grants remains $2.948 billion, the same as in fiscal year 2012.

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