Tulsa Council approves Community Development Block Grant program reforms
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Friday, February 01, 2013
2/01/13 at 5:57 AM
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Tulsa’s City Council.
Read the law: View the amended Community
Development Block Grant ordinance.
The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to change the process for allocating federal Community Development Block Grants.
The ordinance changes are meant to address years of problems with the CDBG program that have resulted in the city's being fined or having to return funds.
The city distributes millions of dollars each year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to local organizations that serve low- to moderate-income communities, the disabled and the elderly.
"We just make it easier for the people that are applying for the money and make sure we don't have to pay HUD back and it goes out to the people that we picked" to receive it, City Councilor Jack Henderson said before Thursday night's meeting.
The ordinance changes call for streamlining the process to ensure that the City Council and others charged with allocating the funds are involved from start to finish.
Henderson admitted that in previous years the council "probably did throw some stuff out the window because we weren't comfortable with the way it was presented to us in the first place."
The new process requires that reviewers receive more training and that each application be reviewed by at least five reviewers. The newly formed Community Development Committee, which will provide allocation recommendations to the City Council, will now receive a list of reviewers at the start of the process.
Previously, "we didn't even know who they (the reviewers) were," Councilor Phil Lakin said. "It's like they were unknown. What were their qualifications? Did they get trained? Now we can say they are qualified and they are trained, and that just provides a lot more validity in and to the process."
In previous years, the city's Grants Administration Department has been criticized for, among other things, inconsistent scoring of applications and rejecting applications because a single document was missing or left unsigned.
Sandra Lewis, executive director of the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless, said she was glad to see the city act on the issue. The key moving forward will be for the city to live by its own rules and apply them consistently, Lewis said.
"They can't throw it to the wind in the last moment, which is what has happened in the past," she said.
In 2008, an audit by HUD resulted in a $1.5 million fine for misspent CDBG funds.
The city was ordered in 2010 to repay an additional $456,147 in federal money that was misspent by a former CDBG recipient.
Late last year, HUD fined the city $704,930 for failing to spend CDBG funds in a timely manner.
The city is required to submit its modified allocation process to HUD by Feb. 11 or possibly face more fines.
The CDBG ordinance changes were developed by the City Council in cooperation with the Mayor's Office and with input from the public, previous CDBG applicants and HUD.
Henderson said during Thursday's meeting that the only changes that still need to be made are in the city's Grants Administration Department.
"Their understanding level is not there. They don't get it, because they keep doing the same thing year after year," Henderson said. "Like somebody said, if I was in the private world and I made mistakes like has been made in Grants, I would be fired."
Changes made to CDBG allocation process
The committee shall include nine city councilors, five citizens appointed by the City Council - including three from low- to moderate-income census tracts - a person with grants administration experience, and representatives from the Indian Nation Council of Governments, a financial institution, a continuum of care facility and the city's Planning Department. Councilors will serve as ex-officio members so that committee business can proceed without all councilors in attendance.
- Three existing committees - Prioritization, Program Review and Fund Allocation - have been combined into one committee called the HUD Community Development Committee.
Original Print Headline: Council OKs reforms to city's block grant program
- More training will be provided to application reviewers.
- A minimum of five reviewers will review each application.
- A list of the reviewers selected to review the proposals must be provided to the Community Development Committee before proposal reviews commence.
- Applicants will be given 72 hours after the "soft deadline" for submitting applications to provide any missing information.
- Applicants working on new construction or rehabilitation projects have to show that they have the proper funding and permits needed to complete the project in a timely fashion.
- The Grants Administration Department will submit written updates on projects to the City Council each month.
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313