on Community Development Block Grants

I have been recently questioned as to why the City Council decided to place a hold on receiving the federal CDBG grants from HUD for our town, and our decision to seek a legal review for potential impact to both the city and its residents. Below is a summary of the concerns I raised.

First, the HUD contract requires the adoption of polices and rules that are completely unrelated to the grant:

  • Requirement to adopt  policies and procedures on the prohibition of the use of excessive force during non-violent civil rights demonstrations
  • Requirement to adopt policies and procedures on the barring of entrances and exits to a facility that is subject to civil rights demonstrations
  • Requirement adopt a residential anti-displacement and relocation assistance plan, examples of which include the arrangement of temporary housing, deferred tax payment plans, establishment of counseling centers, relocation services etc.

While on its face this appears benign, there could be potential negative consequences:

  • In order to receive the funds, the city is being forced to adopt new ordinances/policies that are completely unrelated to the Block Grant & have no sunset requirement
  • There is no definition listed as to what HUD considers excessive force
  • There is no definition listed as to what HUD considers a civil rights demonstration or limits thereof
  • Will this override the rights of property owners over of control over their own property if they are subject to a civil rights protest (i.e. barring of entrances & exits to a facility)?
  • Will this override the rights of property owners over their own protection from harassment if subject to a civil rights protest (City Ordinance, Ch. 40.02, Code of Iowa Sec 708.7)?
  • Will this override the rights of property owners to be free from disorderly conduct, such as excessive noise, abusive language, obstruction of street, or disruption of a funeral service if subject to a civil rights protest (City Ordinance 40.03, Code of Iowa 723.4[2, 3, 7, 8])?
  • Will this override the city noise prohibitions if subject to a civil rights protest (City Ordinance 40.06.1 & 4)?
  • Will this override city ordinance on the prohibition of obstruction of official acts if part of a civil rights protest (City Ordinance 41.05, Code of Iowa Sec 719.1)?
  • Who is the final arbiter as to whether these new ordinances are being followed, our elected city council or unelected HUD bureaucrats in D.C.?

Second, I discovered that a new HUD rule, proposed over a year ago, was set to go into effect later this year, called “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH), and would govern all CDBG grant recipients. Since the city of Ankeny recently put a pause on seeking their own CDBG grants because of this rule, I decided to read the entire Federal Register and find out about it myself (there are about 80 pages with supporting HUD documents – see http://www.huduser.org/portal/affht_pt.html). After doing so, I had some concerns, and requested that the Council put a pause on receiving the money until these could be addressed by both HUD and our legal counsel, since the folks who pursued the grant on our behalf (SICOG) didn’t know anything about it. Some of my concerns were the following:

  • It appears that the goal of AFFH is to meet a preferred HUD racial and income mix in a CDBG recipient community. Will we be required to do this as well, and if so, to what degree?
  • Do we know if after we accept this money that we will meet HUDs criteria, whatever that is?
  • Who will pay for the subsequent community surveys to prove that we are meeting HUD’s goals?
  • What will we be required to do, as well as the cost, if we fail to meet the government’s preferential racial & income mix?
  • Will we be required to prove ourselves every year, with no sunset?
  • If we are sued by the Feds, who pays for that, as the likelihood of us winning is slim?
  • Will our legal insurance cover such a lawsuit and if so, to what degree?
  • Does it apply to all CDBG grant recipients, regardless of their chosen use for the grant money?
  • Will these rules, as well as any new ones, apply to past, current and future CDBG recipients?
  • If not applicable now, is HUD able to change this rule, even if contrary to previous rules/interpretations, and mandate that past, current and future CDBG recipients comply without recourse or sunset?
  • If we ever refuse to abide by rule changes detrimental to our city what are the potential consequences?
  • Who is the final arbiter for compliance, our elected city council or unelected HUD bureaucrats in D.C.?

Keep in mind that although these funds come as a pass-through from the state, the state does not have full control of the rules. These are still federal monies from HUD, so HUD will ultimately have the final say on the correct interpretation of HUD rules. There seems to be a lot of unknowns here, and as a council member I want to ensure that the city, its residents, and private property rights are protected – we should know exactly what we are signing on to with this contract before we accept the money.  Right now, we really don’t.

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