Getting to know local government Boards address housing shortage

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Home efficiency and safety repairs are the focus of CDBG funds. (Press photo)

By Molly Moser

In a recent interview with Pat McTaggart, Clayton County Supervisors Gary Bowden and Ron McCartney both point to a shortage of appropriate housing as one of the largest struggles the county faces. City Manager Denise Schneider serves on two housing-related boards aiming to address those very challenges in Guttenberg, and she sat down with The Press to explain the various acronyms, audiences, and purposes of the two.

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Board: This is a four-member board, with a current vacancy, established by annual resolution. Current board members, in addition to Schneider, are Steve Rausch and Mary Moser. Councilmember Jane Parker is the city representative for the group. 

Community development block grants are provided by the federal government and administered by the State of Iowa. “Depending on the type of program, these funds can be used for home-buyer or home repair assistance. Qualifying applicants have to be income eligible,” Schneider explained. Cities must apply for the funds on a competitive basis and must meet a required percentage of lower-to-moderate income residents to qualify.  

The State of Iowa requires a professional administrator of the funds. When community development block grants are awarded to Guttenbeg, they are handled by the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, or UERPC. UERPC consults with the CDBG board, reviewing applications to make the best decisions about housing projects. Homeowners can apply based on income eligibility on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Guttenberg does not currently have any CDBG funds available, so the board is not meeting. Past projects have focused on housing rehabilitation, which include home repairs for low-to-moderate income homeowners focusing on safety and energy efficiency. Handicap accessibility issues are also addressed. “The main components are usually roofs, windows, insulation, furnaces, hot water heaters, electrical repairs/upgrades, plumbing repairs, plaster repairs, and other repairs sometimes done depending on the amount of funds available and the severity of the condition of the items that need to be repaired or replaced,” Schneider explained. 

CDBG funds can also be used for city utility projects, such as water or sewer mains, water towers, wells, pumps, lift stations, and wastewater treatment plant modifications, upgrades, or repairs. Most recently, in 2015, the city was able to use CDBG funds to replace the water main on a portion of River Park Drive following winter freeze issues.

“We are currently working on an LMI (low-to-moderate income) study for Guttenberg so we can apply for more CDBG housing rehab funds and CDBG water project funds for a water main project in 2018,” said the city manager, referring to water mains on South River Park Drive that have not yet been replaced. The LMI study will determine how many people living in Guttenberg meet CDBG’s income guidelines. “If a city does not have enough LMI families, then they cannot apply for CDBG funds. An LMI study is required at least every three years to allow the city to apply for CDBG funds,” Schneider explained. 

Regional Housing Authority (RHA): Schneider is a member of the Regional Housing Authority, which includes representatives from Clayton, Allamakee, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties.        

“The Regional Housing Authority is a policy-making board that is responsible for planning, setting priorities and, under regulation from Housing and Rural Development [or HUD, a federal government agency], insuring that the goal of safe and decent housing for every American is carried out to the greatest extent possible,” Schneider told The Press. 

UERPC houses RHA, a Section 8 Housing Program for assisting lower-income families to live in decent, safe and sanitary housing. The program provides assistance for low-income families in the private rental market through the HUD Housing Choice Voucher Program, and helps improve the region’s housing stock by requiring participating landlords to meet Section 8 Housing Quality Standards for their rental property. Duties of the group include:

• Informing eligible families of the availability of Section 8 assistance

• Encouraging owners to make their units available for lease by Section 8 participants

• Determining the maximum amount of housing assistance payments that can be used for family-paid utilities; and posting the utility allowances annually

• Receiving applications from families and determining their eligibility for assistance

• Inspecting Section 8 units to determine that they meet or exceed Section 8 Housing Quality Standards 

• Approving leases 

• Making Housing Assistance Payments to owners

• Performing annual and periodic re-examinations of income, family composition and redetermination of rent

• Informing applicants and resident families if they require any type of accommodations, in writing, on the intake application, reexamination documents, and notices of adverse action by the PHA

• Offering LEP services to individuals who need language assistance. 

RHA has a five-member board of directors from within the region. A list of available rentals is maintained at www.uerpc.org/regional-housing-authority.

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