2017-09-07 / News

CDBG funds to continue despite president’s efforts

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The Federal Community Block Development Grant has been funded through June 30, 2018 for a total of $446,376, down about $3,000 from the previous year. The money will be used to fund infrastructure, housing, economic development and social services throughout Biddeford. Funding comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which supports municipalities throughout the country.

President Donald Trump’s May budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 proposed cutting $6.8 billion from affordable housing programs and Biddeford would have lost its entire grant funding under the proposed cuts. Because of the funding’s widespread reach across the country, Linda Waters, Community Development Block Grant coordinator for the city of Biddeford, said national legislators quickly refused the president’s proposed cuts.

“Congress said no way,” she said.

Waters held a public hearing Friday, Sept. 1 at city hall to listen to public input and review spending from fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30. Ward 1 Councilor Michael Swanton was the hearing’s only attendee. The hearing was part of an annual report submitted to the federal government ahead of the program’s final year of its five-year consolidated plan. Written or verbal comment will also be accepted until 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18 via Waters’ email.

The grant’s largest expenditure last year was on infrastructure downtown with $391,915 spent on sidewalks on Main Street between Alfred and Washington streets. The work included specifications for historic curbing where possible, historic cobblestone bump outs, planters, tree removal and lighting to match lower Main Street. All work had to pass state and federal regulations for historic preservation.

Sidewalks had been a focus of the community development department for a long time in Biddeford. Waters said she witnessed an older gentleman struggling to walk along the streets and realized everyone deserved to have nice sidewalks.

“We take a minimal amount of money the city gets and stretch it as far as we can,” she said. “I want people to know we take care of our downtown.”

Biddeford Housing Authority purchased the St. Andre Rectory at 73 Bacon St. two years ago and renovation is expected to be finished this month. The rectory will serve as a collaborative space between Alternative Pathways and Community Bicycle Center. Biddeford Housing spent $139,874 of grant money to rebuild the porch, build a handicap ramp, outfit new plumbing and heating and complete exterior siding repairs at the rectory. The project will use another $104,791 in the coming year that was allotted in the budget to finish the repair work. The rectory refurbishment is part of a larger effort to support the South and Bacon Street neighborhoods.

“Our aim is to make citizens feel good about the neighborhood they live in and drive the negative elements out,” Waters said.

Another $59,407.11 of grant funding was given to social service programs that include Southern Maine Agency on Aging, ArtVan, Seeds of Hope Career Center, MaineWay, Inc., Learning Works and My Sister’s Keeper. These nonprofit organizations serve low to moderate income populations by providing meals to elderly people, assisting in online job searches and financial management assistance. My Sister’s Keeper assists women as they transition from correctional facilities back into the Biddeford community. Swanton highlighted its work since there are so few resources for individuals upon their release from prison.

“I think it’s an invaluable program,” he said.

Funding will continue for social service programs into the following year, as well as for housing and infrastructure projects. Buildings in the area that have fallen into disrepair will continue to be identified Waters said. She expects sidewalk work to continue on the northern section of Main Street as well. She said city administration and staff know how to use the funds well and she has to wait for the city council to decide which projects it would like to focus on next.

“It’s exciting to see what’s going to happen,” she said.

Waters can be reached at lwaters@biddefordmaine.org for any questions or comments regarding the program.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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