Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Lessons I've learned in 5 years of working with MDHA on a community development block grant

In 2005 I started working in an advisory position with the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency on a large block grant designated for improvements in Salemtown. Now that the end of the project is in sight 2 years late, I am ready to share some lessons I learned from working with MDHA. Those of you who work with MDHA community development in the future might want to take note:
  • Do not have faith that MDHA is thinking first about the best interest of your community. MDHA is acting on behalf of itself first; benefits for your neighborhood are at best second, and sometimes third or fourth.
  • You can count on MDHA showing preferential treatment to other Metro departments and agencies without necessarily telling you until much later when they have to explain delays in the project to you.
  • Anyone can halt your community development project at any point in the timeline. If a single person protests privately to MDHA planners, the process to which you devoted you valuable time and energies can grind to a standstill until resolution is reached.
  • The success of your project cannot be left solely to MDHA or the contractors they hire. Citizen advisors and other neighborhood leaders will have to make nuisances of themselves to planners by checking on the status of the project on at least a weekly basis. Someone somewhere in the system will drop the ball. Start screaming, "Fumble!" until someone picks it up.
  • Do not trust what MDHA says you can or can't do. Whenever possible research the rules on federal grants yourself. When an MDHA official attempts to discourage an idea, it's not clear whether the idea is something that is actually prohibited or just something they prefer not to get into. There is a difference.
  • Do not assume that whatever an MDHA contractor demolishes will be rebuilt. Just because they demolish sections of sidewalks to install lampposts does not mean that they will reconstruct them. In fact they are more likely to cut corners and costs by not repouring them. You should not assume that they will put the things that did not need fixing back they way they were. You'll have to demand it. Take pictures before demolition of infrastructure so that you can show them exactly the way things were.
  • If you don't keep shoving forgotten, unfinished projects back on the MDHA radar, then they will remain invisible. Stay on them until they follow-up if for no other reason than to get you to go away. But do not go away until you are satisfied.
  • The MDHA community liaison who meets with your community leaders is less likely assigned to be a catalyst and more likely assigned to manage you and filter information. If you want action outside the glacially plodding MDHA timeline, then you have to contact supervisors.
Working with MDHA has been an eye-opener. These have been frustrating lessons to learn, but I'm passing them on just so others are not blind-sided by the dysfunctions.


  1. I am hopeful that the significant changes made in their 2010-4 consolidated plan are going to address a lot of these concerns.

  2. I wish I had seen this when you wrote it. All of your points above have been EXACTLY my experience with MDHA and the block grant for Wedgewood-Houston.

    I hope I'm not risking progress made with our community block grant by saying this.

    With groups like the Neighborhoods Resource Center beginning to get involved with community grant projects, I hope that well-intentioned residents wanting to help with neighborhood improvements, like myself, can keep from wanting to pull their hair out over something that should be a positive experience.