Back to the Mar-Apr 2019 issue

Has Your City Used a Community Development Block Grant?

Adam Kienberger
Community Development Director
Farmington (Population 22,421)

Farmington is a growing city in Dakota County that has land available for green¬field development and a historic downtown primed for reinvestment. A major challenge in preserving older areas of the community is identifying funding for building preservation.

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars play a key role in our preservation efforts.We use the CDBG program for commercial rehabilitation, senior programming, and strategic planning initiatives.

The county’s role

Our strong partnership with the Dakota County Community Development Agency (CDA) is also critical. The CDA works with cities to provide CDBG funding via the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The CDA holds an annual training to help communities understand CDBG requirements.

Projects using CDBG funds

The city’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) recently used CDBG funds to award a matching grant to a downtown building owner to make improvements to their 1890 building’s failing roof. We worked closely with our building official and CDA staff to certify project eligibility and compliance.

The city also completed a downtown redevelopment plan funded jointly with CDBG dollars. This plan led to an EDA companion program for downtown businesses making improvements that don’t qualify for CDBG funds.

Lessons learned

Some key takeaways after working with the CDBG program for almost 14 years include:

Communicate with the experts. Work closely with your partners who work with HUD. Provide them reports to show compliance.

Learn how to “right-size” your projects based on the amount of available funding. Not all preservation projects are a good fit for CDBG due to federal wage requirements under the Davis-Bacon Wage Act, scope of work, or an inexperienced contractor.

Phone a friend. Have a question on what has been successful or what problems you might run into? Use your network of peers to identify challenges early on before crafting a CDBG program or grant application.

City Clerk
Winton (Population 165)

The year 2017 was extra special for the residents of the City of Winton. Located on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, this historic community had gone without a public city hall and meeting space for many years.

Finally, in 2017 all the planning came together to build a new community center complete with a kitchen and office. Financing for the project was a combination of a loan and grants from the Iron Range Resource and Rehabilitation Board and a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

Working with the county

The CDBG program is run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Funds are released to and administered by our county’s Planning and Development Department. Earlier in the year, St. Louis County issued notices of pre-application meetings.

County Senior Planner Steve Nelson helped Winton with the pre-application process. Nelson was assisted by Mike Vidmar, who visited the city and reviewed the project application for completeness. The final review is done by a volunteer citizen panel, which decides the distribution of the grant funding based on the needs of the community. Winton was awarded a $16,000 grant for safety and accessibility improvements to the building project. The city used this grant for parking lot surfacing, curb stops, and an entrance that is accessible to people with disabilities.

Competitive, sometimes uncertain process

CDBG grants are a valuable financial resource in packaging a project for your city. The grant process can be highly competitive because there are always more requests than funding available. Applications must show real need. The grant is also subject to the federal government passing a HUD budget in a timely manner. Otherwise, there can be a delay in the release of the grant funds. The Winton CDBG grant was delayed by about three months. Fortunately, the contractor was willing to wait for the city’s payment.

Funds result in community asset

We are very appreciative of the CDBG program. The new Winton Community Center has become an asset to the entire area. Not only is it used for Winton meetings, precinct polling, and the clerk’s office, but it is also rented to others for weekly meetings and one-time events.