Butler County approves $2.6M in federal low-income funding

The Butler County commissioners approved $2.6 million in federal low-income grants last week, the largest allotment of which is $475,000 for unspecified projects to increase “affordable and a safe rental housing.”

The commissioners received requests for $5.1 million in Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding for 39 projects to benefit low- and moderate-income residents. The bulk of those, totaling $2.9 million, were applications for Community Development Block Grant funding, and the rest came in HOME Investment Partnerships Program requests.

Desmond Maaytah, community development manager for the Butler County Department of Development, is expecting the county to receive about $1.2 million in CDBG funding and $700,000 in HOME funds. There are also funds available to roll over from previous years.

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The commissioners approved $1.25 million for CDBG projects and programs $1.35 million in HOME funds for new housing, down payment assistance and some rehab work.

Maaytah said the $475,000 in unspecified funding could help pay for all or part of the following:

• $400,000 to help the YWCA purchase land to a new campus in Hamilton;

• $277,500 for Serve City to build 30 affordable housing units for people transitioning from homelessness in Hamilton;

• $295,000 for Serve City to build a 12-unit “cottage community” in Oxford;

• $150,000 for the Community Meal Center to build one to two units for women

“That’s four projects, I don’t think the commissioners had enough specifics on those projects yet to decide which ones to fund,” Maaytah said. “The YWCA is looking for other sources of funding and I know they’ve applied for other sources of funding so they weren’t quite ready to fund them yet. And really Serve City they’re looking at those too. So I think we’re going to need for information from the applicants.”

When the commissioners first considered all of the applications, the YWCA and Serve City Hamilton project were not recommended for funding by the county’s consolidated planning committee for HUD funds.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter at the time said she didn’t favor the Oxford “cottage community.”

“I’m totally against the cottage community in Oxford, that’s not where the homeless are,” Carpenter said. “The homeless, the majority are in Hamilton, that’s where the need is.”

Her fellow commissioners have not made up their minds on funding the YWCA project, but all three agreed to sign a “comfort letter” earlier this year so the Y could apply for a $9.2 million Low Income Housing Tax Credit grant application.

“I’m hopeful we’ll be able to support the YWCA and its efforts to house battered women and assist them to get back on their feet, especially women who have children,” Carpenter said. “I think the other issues on the table are housing people with serious needs. I’m also hopeful that we will provide funds for those creative new initiatives.”

Wendy Waters-Connell, executive director of the YWCA, said the plan is to build 45 efficiency apartments and space for supportive services. Some of the supportive services include case management, support groups, individual counseling and psychiatry to tackle problems like addiction and mental illness; transportation; employment and job skills training to name a few.

Waters-Connell told the Journal-News the county HOME money and close to $300,000 they have asked Hamilton to contribute are necessary for the project to proceed. She said she will know June 1 if they won the low income tax credit grant, then she can make a formal application for CDBG money.

“If we don’t get the grant all bets are off and we’ll try again next year,” she said. “But you know it’s a pandemic, so who knows what’s going to happen in a year’s time. I know that certainly priorities change, the pandemic is the crisis of the moment, those priorities have to be addressed to keep all of us in the community safe. But we know long-term there is still a need for low-income housing for vulnerable populations.”

The commissioners had no quarrels with the proposed CDBG projects for this year and all the recommended projects were approved for funding. The largest proposed allocation is $235,000 for storm sewer replacement in the Five Points area in Fairfield Twp. to fix drainage for 23 homes. Robert Jordan, who grew up in that area and whose mother still lives there, implored the commissioners to fund the project.

“We’ve been pushing for this, they’re all elderly people, they’re not very wealthy people either,” Jordan said. “And there are people up there that’s trying to fix their houses up to be more presentable. This might be something that would push them to that.”

Some other infrastructure projects in various townships and villages are on the list as well.

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