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Newsletters a no-no

Federal housing money can't be used to operate neighborhood associations, city says

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In an overhaul of how the city handles federal funds for community needs, some $14,000 that's propped up several neighborhood organizations for years will be redirected elsewhere from now on.

The news hit hard for the Organization of Westside Neighbors, one of the city's most prominent neighborhood groups, which had expected to receive $7,000 for the fiscal year that began in April.

"This is a bolt out of the blue to me," OWN president Welling Clark said in an email.

Others that will see funding evaporate are the Ivywild Improvement Society, which was to receive $1,800 this year; neighborhood associations for Mill Street southwest of downtown, which was to get $1,250; Deerfield Hills, $1,500; and the Adams area in southeast Colorado Springs, $2,100.

The HUD Community Development Block Grant money at issue could be used to help neighborhoods in other ways, says the city's community initiatives manager, Aimee Cox. But, she says, "We will no longer fund individual neighborhood associations' operational expenses."

The city's Housing Development Division has used the federal money — allocated in Infrastructure, Administration and Planning, and Public Services categories — to fund affordable housing, construction of sidewalks and curb cuts to accommodate the disabled, a nutrition program for seniors, and homeless shelters. It also funded operational expenses of neighborhood organizations, including newsletter publication, neighborhood cleanups, and meetings. But Cox says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently discovered such allocations aren't allowed under the Administration and Planning category from which they've been drawn.

The money could be taken from the Public Services category, but those funds must be allocated on a competitive basis, Cox says, and a newsletter probably wouldn't compete well with, say, sidewalk renovations. Plus, HUD requires applicants for that money to have a Dun & Bradstreet number (which essentially means they have to have nonprofit status under the IRS), and some organizations don't have that.

HUD money is supposed to be allocated to regions of the city based on unemployment rates, building vacancies, median household income and home values, building ages, rental rates and property crimes. That means the redirected money most likely will go to the city's southeast side, where crime rates are higher and incomes lower than elsewhere, Cox says.

While the neighborhood association money is a tiny part of the $2.56 million the city received this year from HUD, it's a big deal for the recipients.

Jill Clark, board member for the Ivywild Improvement Society, says her 116-year-old group might have to curtail how often its quarterly newsletter comes out or reduce its semi-annual cleanup to once a year. The cut also will mean asking members and businesses to increase contributions. "It's not going to stop us," she says, "but we'll have to be more self-sufficient and cost-effective."

The Westside Story is a three-times-a-year newsletter for west-siders. The prospect of losing $7,000 to fund it has led OWN vice president Mary Gallivan to say, "It's going to be difficult. We're going to have to find ways to fund our activities — to supplement our budget, newsletter and outreach to members."

It's not yet known whether the city will have to repay the HUD money that was mis-budgeted, Cox says.

zubeck@csindy.com

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