The City of Buffalo sits at the rock bottom on the speed with which it spends community development funds, according to a recently published Buffalo News article on the state of anti-poverty funds. Officials have long promised to speed things up. Those promises should be kept.
City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder said the delays mean that the city has more than $31 million in unspent block grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The amount represents more than two years’ worth of funding, according to an analysis prepared by Schroeder.
Because HUD regulations mandate that cities have an unspent grant balance of 1½ years, the comptroller warns that Buffalo is in danger of becoming out of compliance unless it is able to spend more than $12.5 million by Aug. 1, or $6.3 million per month.
For some reason, the spending of HUD funds has been rife with controversy for decades across several administrations. Officials in Mayor Byron W. Brown’s administration have strongly insisted that they have been working for the past few years with the federal agency to increase the rate of spending and direct it to critical areas of need.
That is imperative in one of the poorest big cities in the nation. HUD has issued a somewhat cryptic nod to the city’s latest efforts.
Still, among 68 cities that receive more than $5 million in Community Development Block Grant funding, Buffalo ranks 68th in its ability to spend the money, which pays for emergency home repairs and demolitions, items city officials say they are working on.
It should be noted that the Comptroller’s Office was brought in by HUD two years ago to disburse the funds, and it also should be noted that the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency handles much of the spending.
Brendan R. Mehaffy, executive director of the Office of Strategic Planning, which oversees BURA, has pointed to the transition two years ago as a cause of much of the delay. Schroeder and his office aren’t buying that, or any other explanation, although the comptroller now has a key role in the process. Mehaffy has said that HUD, which mandated the change, has offered its understanding of the situation.
The projects, which involve streets, sidewalks, community centers, emergency rehab loans and removing blight from neighborhoods, could not start until spring broke, and will be finished over the next couple of months.
Indeed, a HUD spokesman said that the city should be on target to meet the necessary spending level by Aug. 1.
City officials say they are right in the ballpark of meeting their time deadline and, if they are below it, will work with HUD.
The urgent need is to move quickly and keep moving quickly to spend anti-poverty funds in critical areas. While officials insist that they have been working hard to do just that, they have only a few months to prove it.