Bethlehem’s Housing and Community Development department is working with the city to decide how to spend money received from two federal grants.
The department presented their recommendations for how to spend the Community Development Block Grant and Home Investment Partnership Program funds at Bethlehem’s City Council meeting on April 4.
According to the Housing and Urban Development Strategic Plan, the department’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality homes for those who are seeking and receiving their services.
Robert Vidoni, housing and community development administrator, said the Community Development Block Grant provides $1.5 million and the Home Investment Partnership Program funds invest about $450,000.
Both of these programs are federally funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the money is distributed among different programs that improve the city with respective sets of criteria to follow.
Vidoni said the funds should be available at some point during summer 2023.
According to the basic requirements of the Community Development Block Grant, the funds provided must be used to help those of a low or moderate income, to clear up slums and blight, or to aid urgent needs.
While they must meet at least one of these three objectives, Vidoni said the programs that receive the funding are diverse and provide a variety of benefits to the City of Bethlehem.
Of the 24 applications the Bethlehem Community and Economic Development department received for this grant, 17 were approved. There is a limit to how much money the city gets each year, so not every applicant is able to receive funding.
The funds from the Home Investment Partnership Program have more specific criteria, as they must be used specifically for housing. There were only four applicants for the program and all of them were approved to receive funding.
According to the Housing and Community Development department’s presentation at City Hall, the Home Investment Partnership Program is designed to increase the amount of quality affordable housing for lower income households in two ways. First, by providing rental and purchase assistance, and second, by funding the purchase and rehabilitation of buildings to be used as affordable housing.
“There are few things you can do (that are) more impactful than help(ing) someone,” Vidoni said. “You know, become a homeowner and build equity in a home, where otherwise these people would be subject to serious housing instability.”
Vidoni said applications for both the grant and program are reviewed by an internal committee. The committee compiles a list of applicants they recommend should receive funding along with how much they think they should receive.
The list is then sent to each city’s mayor for approval. Once approved, the committee presents their recommendations to their respective city council.
While city programs make up some of the applicants for these funds, many of them are nonprofit organizations.
Michael Colón, Bethlehem City Council president, said many of these nonprofits rely on the Community Development Block Grant for a significant portion of their funding.
“The majority of what our nonprofit community does, their services, are not services that are provided by the city of Bethlehem,” Colón said. “I’m glad that we’re able to get that money out into the community and let those service providers execute their mission.”
Some of the organizations that received Community Development Block Grant recommendations include the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA and YWCA, and New Bethany Ministries.
City Councilwoman Grace Crampsie Smith said funding programs like these is important to the Bethlehem community, especially for local children and teenagers.
“They’re definitely going to make an impact,” Crampsie Smith said. “We might not all see it, but it will make an impact.”
According to the department’s presentation, the amount both grants are worth increased this year, with the grant up by nearly 2% and the program up by over 5%.
Crampsie Smith said she finds this increase encouraging, as it means there will be enough funds to allocate to programs and organizations that get recommended each year but have yet to receive funds.
“(The funds) run the programs that we need to be consistent,” Crampsie Smith said. “Unfortunately, there’s always going to be a need, and we’re always going to need to fund those programs.”
The plan for allocating these funds will be up for vote at the next Bethlehem City Council meeting on April 18.