A proposed change in the guidelines for the state Community Development Block Grant program could spell a doubly whammy for the Vineyard, which has already lost out on $2 million in block grant money this year due to a clerical error.
The guideline change, which is still proposed and has not been adopted, would restrict communities who receive grant funding from applying for the program the following federal fiscal year.
Early this month Vineyarders who depend on the grant program for child care and housing assistance learned that there will be no funding this year due to incorrectly worded legal advertisements for public hearings associated with two applications — one for Edgartown, Chilmark and Aquinnah, and the other for Oak Bluffs and Tisbury. The grant writer, Bailey Boyd Associates of West Harwich, has taken responsibility for the error.
Then last week the news surfaced of the proposed guideline changes. “If you receive grant funding for 2012 you cannot apply for grant funding in 2013, and the town will have to take a year off. That’s going to cause what’s happening this year to be amplified,” Melissa Vincent told the Edgartown selectmen last Monday. Mrs. Vincent is the Island program manager with The Resource Inc., the company that administers the housing rehabilitation program.
“We have a waiting list of 150 homes [on the Vineyard] that we will not be able to serve in 2011. We were hoping we will receive grant funding for 2012 and be able to cut away at some of those [applications], but by no means will we be able to get to all of them,” Mrs. Vincent said. “If we’re forced to take off 2013 because of guideline changes we could be forced to shut down the program again. It’s a competitive grant. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to apply every year.”
The implications of the error this year mean the program will be out of operation for at least 10 months starting Jan. 1. Bailey Boyd will prepare grant applications for 2012 funding, but money will not be available until September 2012, if the grant is approved.
The Department of Housing and Community Development, the state department which funnels the federal block grant money to cities and towns, held a public hearing in Worcester on Friday on the proposed guideline changes. Selectmen in Island towns wrote letters of protest to submit to the hearing.
“Many of our local families have benefited from the housing rehab program and child care subsidies and a long wait list remains. Missing one year is difficult, but being funded on alternate years is not practical and undermines what until now has been a very positive program,” wrote Oak Bluffs selectman and board chairman Kathy Burton in a letter from her board.
The Island has benefitted from more than $14 million in block grant monies over the past eight years; the funds have been used to rehabilitate 250 homes with leaky roofs or inadequate heating systems and have provided 77 Island families with child care subsidies. With this year’s grant loss, parents who previously received money for child care so they could work will receive no assistance.
There is currently a waiting list with 150 families who need housing rehabilitation and 220 who need child care subsidies. If the policy change is approved, the waiting list of three to four years would be pushed back to at least six or eight years.
In their letter last week, Edgartown selectmen wrote that working families cannot afford the wait.
“We realize that budgets are tight at the federal, state and local levels and can understand why DCHC is considering an alternative to the CDBG funding,” the selectmen wrote. “However disruption in services that will result in this proposed policy change will have a severe impact to the residents of Martha’s Vineyard.” Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and Chilmark have asked the state to take a different approach, proposing that a percentage of funds received be changed each year rather than alternating eligibility every other year.
The Department of Housing and Community Development will be accepting letters for the written record until August 9. Mrs. Vincent urged families who have received the grant in years past to write letters to Mark Siegenthaler, community development manager, Department of Housing and Community Development, 100 Cambridge Street, Suite 300, Boston, MA 02115.