Do We Waste the CDBG Funds?

"The CDBGs have been identified as programs since I believe the first — actually, the second Bush administration as ones that were just not showing any results. We can’t do that anymore. We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good...We cannot defend that anymore. We’re $20 trillion in debt. We’re going to spend money, we’re going to spend a lot of money, but we’re not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney

The Community Development Block Grant program under the Trump budget would be eliminated.  This program funds public safety, preserving housing, social services, and improving the streets and sewer projects.  The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless benefits from this program so we are not really impartial in this matter.  Can we show results in our $33,000 that we get from the City of Cleveland through the CDBG program? We did make promises to taxpayers with these funds.  These promises include that we would train workers, coordinate services, meet to prevent large buildings from going into foreclosure, and to organize meetings between homeless people and elected officials.  I don't think that we over promised and we can show results.

Our grant pays for:

  1. Outreach collaboration so that all the groups going out and interacting with homeless people are fully trained; are working together; and are helping those who sleep outside are having contact with professional staff.  Bottom line is that if a police officer, City Councilmember, or taxpayer can call our office worried about a homeless guy sleeping on the sidewalk freezing to death.  We would then figure out which outreach worker is on the streets and send that staff out to help. The savings to Cleveland taxpayers is hard to measure, but it is certainly better and more cost effective then sending out an Emergency Medical Service Worker or a Police Officer out to give a homeless guy a blanket.  It is much more likely that if that outreach worker was not present the homeless guy would be taken to the emergency room or to jail by far the least expensive option for our community. 
  2. Monthly meetings between government and advocates to distribute information about any further loss in affordable housing.  If there is a threat to one unit of affordable housing, the advocates can respond and protect against infrastructure decline.  We have not had a loss of a building in five years.  Our government staff who work on housing at Building and Housing, Department of Housing and Urban Development, CMHA, and County Department of Development have to come before their representatives and explain the decisions that they are undertaking.  They have to explain why we are still poisoning young people living in lead filled apartments or prioritizing home ownership over support for rental housing.  Again, hard to prove effectiveness, but seems like a worthwhile undertaking in our community.
  3. Monthly meetings between people who live in a shelter with their elected officials and the bureaucrats who are spending tax dollars.  They have a chance to talk about changes in programs, priority issues and difficulties with government programs.  This is another program that is hard to prove any success and so probably not worth government funding.
  4. We also used the funds to distribute 10,000 Street Cards, registered 200 people to vote, and work to reduce the number of homeless deaths.  The homeless deaths increased in 2016, so I guess we failed on this one. 

Those are the four areas in which we spend the CDBG funding.  We never promised to end homelessness or solve the issues associated with panhandling mostly because there is not enough  funding available.  The City also has a large number of rules that they have to follow in order to receive these funds from the federal government.  They have to submit a plan and they have to limit social service to around 20% of the funds.  They have to limit the funding toward administration and focus on solving problems in the community.  While $3 billion sounds like a lot of money, it is spread around to 120 major cities and even smaller suburbs get some CDBG dollars.  I believe that there are five "entitlement cities" who receive a small piece of the CDBG funding from the Federal government in Cuyahoga County alone.  

These funds have seen budget cuts over the last five years.  This might be the case that they have cut the CDBG budget so much that it has only a tiny impact nationally.  It was the same problem General Assistance folks faced in the 1990s in Ohio.  The monthly subsidy was cut so much that eventually conservative elected officials could say, "No one could live on $80 a month so what is the point? We should eliminate monthly assistance to single adults."    This maybe the same fate of the CDBG program.  Was it cut so much over the last seven years that the impact has dissipated to have no real impact? 

We believe that our funding can show results and actually saves taxpayers money.  Our small allocation saves lives and keep people out of jail.  Our funding better educates advocates, social service providers, and even those who live outside to move to stability.  We find the CDBG program to be invaluable to homeless people in Cleveland.

by Brian Davis

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