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February 25, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, February 25, 2005

Housing, service grants threatened Housing, service grants threatened (February 25, 2005)

Bush budget to slash CDBG funding

By Jon Wiener

The low-income residents who will move into the newly-built efficiency studios on San Antonio Circle next year could be among the last beneficiaries of a federal grant program slated for the chopping block.

Nonprofit leaders and affordable-housing advocates are saying that President Bush's proposed cuts to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program could weaken the safety net for Mountain View's poorest residents.

"Without CDBG, a project like San Antonio Place wouldn't get built," said Chris Block, executive of director of Charities Housing, which just erected the framing for the 120-unit efficiency-studios complex with the help of $2.5 million in CDBG funds. "The wood that you're seeing going up is paid for by CDBG dollars."

The city of Mountain View receives more than $750,000 annually in those funds, according to senior planner Adriana Garefalos. Besides San Antonio Place, the grants have been used to support six affordable-housing developments throughout the city. They also provide the city money for a host of local nonprofits.

CDBG funds from Mountain View and Los Altos make up about 5 percent of the Community Services Agency's budget and its largest source of government funding, said Tom Myers, its executive director. The agency runs programs for the poor, seniors and the homeless.

"I think that it's shortsighted," Myers said of the proposal. "You have to be real careful when you start talking about fiscal responsibility at the cost of people's lives."

Moral qualms aside, many believe that the cuts don't make fiscal sense.

Among the emergency-assistance programs CDBG pays for in Mountain View is one that helps low-income seniors stay in their own homes. One of the main problems with cutting the grants, said Myers, is that alternative measures, such as ones that institutionalize seniors, are far more expensive for taxpayers.

"It's one of the most direct ways to get resources to the folks who need it most," said Mayor Matt Neely. "You cut that money, you cut the legs out from people."

Mountain View acquired the land to build Eagle Park in the 1980s using CDBG funds and later used them to pay for the renovation of Castro School's playground. But Garefalos noted that the amount of money the city receives under the program has been declining since 1995.

"They've been slowly cutting away at the program," said Garefalos, who pointed out that the city has no other similar source of funding to replace it.

Block is optimistic that the $5 billon program can be saved. State and national trade associations, the same groups which have defeated previous efforts to eliminate CDBG, are already mobilizing call-in campaigns to save it.

Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, said that cutting CDBG will close the doors to youth centers and shut down public-works projects in poor communities.

"What is truly insulting is that these communities are being asked to sacrifice to help reduce the federal deficit, when wealthy Americans are enjoying the tax cuts that fueled the deficit and sacrificing nothing," said Crowley.

Crowley's organization, based in Washington, D.C., organized a call-in campaign to Congressional representatives this week. Other groups that have leaped to the defense of the program include both the state and national Leagues of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Under Bush's proposal, the three-decade-old program would be combined with 17 others and placed under the umbrella of the Commerce Department. Details of the new program, named "Strengthening America's Communities Grant Program," are unclear, though analysts expect budget cuts of at least 33 percent.


E-mail Jon Wiener at jwiener@mv-voice.com


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