Council to discuss use of grant money

Staff writerMay 14, 2013 

The Olympia City Council is expected to discuss Tuesday night how to spend an estimated $450,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money, which has been historically used to fund housing and other social service programs.

City staff recommend funding:

 • $170,000 for Quixote Village, a $2.5 million project to build 30 one-room cottages for the homeless and a community building on Thurston County property off Mottman Road.

 • $158,645 to the Family Support Center to turn the city’s Smith Building into a shelter and day center for homeless families. The council has already agreed to sell the building at 837 Seventh Ave. S.E. to the center for $1 and gave the center $551,500 in federal funds last year.

 • $87,355 for Rosie’s Place, a center for homeless youth on State Avenue run by Community Youth Services.

 • $34,000 for Enterprise for Equity, a nonprofit that helps low-income people start businesses.

Staff did not recommend that the city fund The People’s House, a project to build a low-barrier homeless shelter offered by Interfaith Works.

Four council members who attended a special council next week had varying recommendations. Councilwoman Karen Rogers said four members attended: herself, Jeannine Roe, Julie Hankins and Nathaniel Jones.

Rogers recommended giving $20,000 to the People’s House project, because she said the money could be used to attract dollars from other sources. No other council member supported the project. Hankins said she didn’t pick the project because it ranked lower on city staff rankings.

Rogers didn’t favor the Family Support Center proposal. She noted that the city had already sold the Smith Building for $1 and given federal funds last year.

Rogers also proposed to fund Safeplace $160,000 for a community center. Roe also recommended funding Safeplace, but for $74,000.

In an interview, Jones emphasized that the council’s discussions are in the early stages. The council will discuss the matter again Tuesday night and hold a public hearing before making a final decision in June.

Hankins, Jones and Roe suggested spending $100,000 of the grant dollars for acquisition and demolition of buildings on the downtown isthmus. But Jones said it would only be spent if one of the nonprofits doesn’t spend the federal dollars and “we don’t expect to get those monies,” he said.

The council voted unanimously last month to buy 2.3 acres on the downtown isthmus, the site of the old county Department of Health and Housing Authority properties, for an estimated $3.3 million. The council had identified $2.3 million, but was seeking another $1 million from the state to close the deal.

Spending the money for park property would be an unusual way for Olympia to use Community Development Block Grant dollars, based on recent history. Traditionally, the city has used the majority of the federal money for housing, social services and public facilities, said Anna Schlecht, housing program manager for the city. But she said acquiring parkland “is a completely eligible use of the funding” and it is not unusual for other communities to use the money that way.

“...One of the things that we asked for from the applicants this year was an emphasis on economic development activities...” Jones said.

Hankins recommended spending $450,000 to improve city alleys. But, like the isthmus money, it would only be spent if the other agencies couldn’t spend their allocations, she said.

“Unfortunately, there’s never enough money” for all the community’s needs, she said.

“That’s the hard part.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869mbatcheldor@theolympian @MattBatcheldor

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