About 45-50 residents, property and business owners, and religious leaders from Salemtown met last night with community planners from Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency to take their first step toward deciding how almost $600,000 in federal funds for revitalizing neighborhoods will be spent over the next three years. As part of MDHA's plan to invest money to make the quality of life in Salemtown better, they requested and were granted a community block grant for the neighborhood from the Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The meeting was held at the Randee Rogers Training Center on 8th Ave., across the street from the Werthan Lofts.
Salemtown is the 46th "Neighborhood Strategy Area" (NSA) that MDHA has assisted since the 1970s, according to Community Planner Linda Howard. In order to qualify for HUD funds, an NSA should have 51% of its population as low-to-moderate income, it should have working community organizations, and it should have a number of residents with some tenure in the NSA. The block grant has to benefit low-to-moderate income populations, has to be directed toward the elimination of slum areas, and must address urgent development needs posing threats to the health and welfare of residents.
Federal funds come with strings attached, said Howard. They cannot be spent on any development that Metro government has already planned for Salemtown. In addition, the block grant may not be spent on current government conduct, new in-fill homes, operating costs, personal property or earning interest. Examples of what is eligible for funding include: community planning; upgrades to community centers; street and sidewalk repair; historic rehabilitation of old homes; acquisition, rehabilitiation, and relocation of old structures; and water drainage problems.
After some discussion, the group nominated and appointed nine people present at the meeting to a Citizens Action Committee (CAC), which will meet once a month for three years to consider the eligible possibilities and to work closely with MDHA planners to develop an action plan for spending the block grant. The first meeting of the CAC is scheduled for Tuesday, September 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Randee Rogers Training Center. The monthly CAC meetings are open to all members of the Salemtown community. Once the CAC and MDHA make decisions on how to spend funds, Metro Council must approve those decisions.
Both neighborhood associations were represented at the meeting, but Salemtown Neighbors seemed to me to have the larger turn-out, with over 15 of its members present. Ms. Howard publicized the next meeting dates and times of both neighborhood associations to the group in order to encourage attendance at both. One representative of the T.R.U.E. association told the group that he had heard a lot about "the other association" (Salemtown Neighbors) and that he was pleased "to finally meet them."
I was one of those appointed to the CAC last night, and I look forward to working with residents and community leaders to get feedback on solving eligible community problems. I also look forward to being able to relate my impressions of the experience here on Enclave. In the future I'll post what I learn about this significant process. It should provide an interesting civic primer for anyone headed into a similar experience or a record for anyone simply interested in how neighborhood leaders make decisions, work with local governments, and develop priorities for federal remedies to neighborhood problems. And, as always, it will provide a sounding board for your own comments and impressions.