Monday, January 9, 2017

Salem's Social Spending

Former Ward 6 Councilor Benjamin

"The Council needs to find out who's getting the [City's social service] funds and what they're supposed to be doing with it."

                     --Daniel Benjamin, August 2015


The holidays are over, and it's the time of year that area housing and social services providers who've applied to the City of Salem for funding start getting anxious, as the Urban Development Community Services and Housing Commission (CSHC) begin reviewing and ranking their applications.

Funding recommendations are usually completed in February and thereafter incorporated in a draft Annual Action Plan.  In May, the Plan's approved by the Council for submission to HUD.

Despite the public nature of the review/approval process is, it's not all that easy to follow where this money goes, as Councilor Benjamin's comment indicates.  You really have to want to do it.

This blog attempts to detail the funds that were awarded last May, and are being spent now until they run out, or through the end of June if they hold out.  Prior years' funding decisions were discussed briefly in a previous blog, and the process, or some of it, explained in another.  Somehow, last year's awards seem more relevant now than they did last May, what with the new mayor and the community expressing a heightened interest in homelessness, the homeless Point-in-Time Count just around the corner, and HCSC gearing up to deliberate on this year's applications. 

The money's really not all that hard to follow, once you start paying attention.  You will notice, for instance, that the same organizations and programs tend to be funded year in and year out.

It used to be that there were two advisory boards to review applications, but now there's just one -- the CSHC.  Last year, CSHC had about $2M to allocate among all the applicants.  That was $643,090 in HOME funds and $748,579 + $201,950 in CDBG funds, plus another $398,000 from the City of Salem General Fund.  The funds allocated by CSHC are always divided into two big pots.  Think of the biggest pot being for housing and economic development, the smaller pot for social services.    

The Big Pot

The 2016-17 pot for housing and economic development was about $1.4M ($643,090 in HOME funds and $748,579 in CDBG funds).  As best we can determine based on minutes, staff reports and the Annual Action Plan, $440,710 of the $1.4M went to rehab Jason Lee Manor, a senior housing facility; $340,000 went to rehab Shelly's House, a women's transitional reentry housing facility; $320,000 went to Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network for a tenant-based rental assistance program called "Fresh Start"; $125,790 went toward Salem Housing Authority's South Fair apartments to convert under-used daycare space into two housing units; $30,000 went to operate Catholic Community Services Foundation's Community Housing Development Organization, and $288,770 went to four "economic development" programs to provide technical assistance to 32 small businesses, 9 people welding training and job placement, and at least 6 small business loans.  The balance went, we think, to administrative costs and reserves.

The Small Pot

This is the pot Councilor Benjamin wanted to know about.  The pot that concerned Mayor Peterson  August 2015, because it goes to social service agencies that, in her mind, "draw people into the downtown area" and yet "don't feel a sense of responsibility for the result" (panhandling).  Put another way, this is the pot that some see as a giant handout for which there is no accountability.  

2016-17 pot for social services was about $.6M ($398,000 in General Funds and $201,950 in CDBG funds).  Of the CDBG funds, the Center for Hope and Safety received $87,990 (case management), Congregations Helping People received $56,480 (subsistence payments), and Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network received $57,480 (case management).  Much of the General Fund allocation went, as usual, for case management: Mano-a-Mano received $30,000, Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency received $30,000, St. Francis Shelter received $30,000, and Northwest Human Services - HOST received $35,000.  In addition, NWHS received $110,000 for their crisis hotline, Marion/Polk Food Share received $142,000 for food, and Congregations Helping People received another $20,000 for subsistence payments.  This distribution is pretty typical. 

2017 Competition

As the CSHC prepares to make its 2017 recommendations, it will have substantially less to work with from the big pot.  Recall that last fall, the City Council committed $400,000 in 2017 HOME funds to Mountain West's affordable housing project on Portland Road.  Tonight, they will commit another $500,000 in 2017 CDBG funds for the Salem Housing Authority's affordable housing renovation of Yaquina Hall.  Investing in affordable housing is definitely what the City needs to do, but this does leave only about half a million in the pot for other projects, including tenant-based rental assistance.

2015-19 Con Plan Goals
Given the City's Consolidated Plan priorities, which places  promoting economic development above ending homelessness and providing affordable housing, the tenant-based rental assistance project could well be in jeopardy.

Recall Jerry Moore's observations last November and December, that, among Salem's non-profits, "it's survival of the fittest.  They may all be trying to do the same thing, but they're battling each other, and they're not really coordinating amongst themselves."  And recall Jon Reeves and Bruce Bailey, directors of Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency and Union Gospel Mission, nodding in agreement when he said that, and Commissioner Carlson and Mayor Clark laughing as if someone had just said something funny.


Recall, finally, Reeves saying, "It's not just the non-profit organizations.  If the government doesn't change its practice, if our local jurisdictions don't come to the table in a different way, we're never going to get anywhere with this issue."  It would have been helpful for him to have said what, exactly, he meant by that, but he didn't, and, typically, no one asked him.  But let's guess he was calling for government to hold non-profit housing and social services organizations accountable for the resources entrusted to them, which would include requiring them to collaborate, which is demonstrably not what they're doing now.  That would be a good start.

It's too late this year to incorporate preferences and performance measures -- the applications are all in and the review process has begun.  But it's not too late for next year.

The Oft-Ignored Duties of the CSHC under SRC Chapter 20G
As it happens, the City Council has already charged a commission to carry out this sort of function -- the CSHC.  No entity is better positioned to know the strengths and weaknesses of  programs, or use that knowledge to favor the most effective/collaborative, than the entity responsible for resource allocation.

So why has the CSHC not been seen to be fulfilling these duties?  The Commission was never even mentioned in MWHITF proceedings, much less consulted as to the "social service needs of the community", or the efforts it's attempted "toward exchanging information for the purpose of coordinating social service delivery systems..."  That's partly because it hasn't actually done those things, but followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, the Social Services Advisory Board, who also failed in this regard, because they claim not to have the time.  Imagine the Planning Commission trying to get away with that.   

It comes down to this.  The real reason the CSHC hasn't fulfilled its duties is because City staff and the City Council haven't required them to.  Maybe, that's some of what Mr. Reeves meant -- that government has to change its expectations of housing and social services providers by asking more of boards and commissions like the CSHC, on whom they depend to do what would otherwise be their work.

If the CSHC requires more guidance from the Council to get them started, then the Council should give it to them.  But, unless the Council asks the CSHC to fulfill all its duties under SRC Chapter 20G, the CSHC is probably going to continue to meet only its "minimum requirements" as dictated by staff.  If the Council isn't willing to work with CSHC to raise the standards of its work, it probably doesn't need another commission, either.

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