WEST ALLIS — The program that created more than 120 jobs in West Allis in the last five years, aided the needy, made the community safer and reduced blight is on the federal chopping block.
President Donald Trump proposes dropping the community development block grant and the HOME programs and reducing the rent assistance program. The goal is partly to start bringing down the massive federal deficit and help keep the country from having to borrow so much from other countries such as China. Rebuilding the nation's military is the other stated goal, Trump has said.
West Allis officials say that achieving budget control is important, however what those federal dollars are already achieving in the city is also important.
“The elimination of CDBG and HOME funding will severely hamper the city of West Allis’ ability to create jobs, provide public services that assist low- to moderate-income families and seniors and eliminate blight," West Allis Mayor Dan Devine said. "These are valuable tools we use to implement a vast array of community improvements that we otherwise could not afford.
"If the President is really about 'America First,' I struggle to see his logic behind this approach,” Devine said.
The West Allis Common Council could vote as early as April 4 on a resolution asking Congress to reject the proposed 2018 federal budget that recommends eliminating the CDBG and HOME programs.
Lose $1.1 million
Losing the community development block grants that average $1.1 million a year would be the most painful, officials say. The city uses the federal money in far-reaching ways, from law enforcement to job creation to helping the needy.
For example, in the last five years, the city has given economic development loans to businesses that have created more than 120 full-time jobs, said Kristi Johnson, community development supervisor. The city requires businesses to hire a certain number of people to get the loans. A certain number of those hired must be low- or moderate-income people, the target of CDBG funds.
The federal CDBG dollars also account for large portions of West Allis nonprofit agencies' budgets.
Last year, the West Central Interfaith Neighborhood Outreach Program that serves older adults with such services as telephone check-ins and providing volunteers to take them to grocery stores and appointments, received $57,000. That accounted for 67 percent of the agency's budget, Johnson said. West Allis Interfaith serves 680 seniors each year.
"We don't want to alarm anyone," about what would happen if the CDBG program is dropped, said Tammy Herro, director of West Central Interfaith.
Asked how the program stacks up to the national objectives of reducing the federal deficit and beefing up defense, she said, "Our services are critical because people often don't have other options for getting to appointments, getting to a store or getting help with home chores.
"I know we do good work here."
The Family Resource Center that serves children and families would lose 78 percent of its budget if CDBG funding is dropped, Johnson said. Last year, it served 160 people, providing such services as play groups, parent readiness classes, and child care for low- and moderate-income families.
The West Allis Police Department uses CDBG funds to partly pay for a community service officer to provide a police presence in targeted low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.
The department also provides a domestic violence support group that serves about 50 low- to moderate-income people, Johnson said.
The health department uses CDBG funds to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in homes and builds raised garden beds so people can grow their own vegetables.
The federal CDBG dollars also have helped make West Allis a prettier and a better place to live, Johnson said.
Only last year, $800,000 was used to dramatically upgrade two parks in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, she said. Federal CDBG dollars also help the city buy more trees, bushes and flowers to plant in boulevards.
The city's 50 percent matching facade grants for businesses have helped eliminate blight at 14 businesses in the last five years, she said. One of those matching grants went to KaBobs Bistro that opened last year. The grant helped the business open up blocked windows to make a sunny restaurant and bar.
Similarly, some CDBG dollars are used for housing rehabilitation loans to homeowners for such things as roofs, siding and fixing code violations. In the last five years, 54 loans were given. The program is a last resort for owners who because of low- or moderate-incomes or due to other factors don't qualify for regular bank loans, Johnson said.
The CDBG program was created for low- and moderate-income families and the rehab loan program brings resources back into those neighborhoods and to people who are disadvantaged, she said.
Even city employees get some CDBG funding. About a quarter of a million CDBG dollars fund planning of projects helping those in low- and moderate income neighborhoods and administration of the CDBG and Fair Housing programs, Johnson said.
The building inspections and neighborhood services department also gets funding. They try to eliminate blight by citing properties for building code violations. In 2016, they conducted 4,484 inspections, resulting in 438 new/referral case files, Johnson said. In the same period, a total of 560 old cases were closed out because they were up to code.
The HOME program has put its $190,000 annual allocation into such things as rehabilitating senior housing, helping rehabilitate 19 homes and building four single-family homes in place of empty blighted homes and selling them to low- or moderate-income families, Johnson said.
The federal budget's drastic reduction to rent assistance would affect 602 families, about 135 of those are veterans, Johnson said. They pay 30 percent of their incomes toward rent and rent assistance pays the rest.
"It's horrible, it would make a huge negative impact on seniors, veterans and others," Johnson said.