Commissioner Rob Pitts criticizes county handling of HUD funds

The only thing worse than no information is misinformation.

While I welcome the citizen engagement we saw at the January 8 Board of Commissioners’ meetings, it is clear that there is a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation of county use of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) funds.

On December 18, 2019 the Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted to begin the process of relinquishing its status as an Entitlement Community as defined by HUD. I supported this action because I do not believe Fulton County is in the best position to manage these programs for our cities.

There is no doubt that housing and community development issues are a concern across Fulton County. As leaders, we have a responsibility to ensure that ALL programs are administered effectively and efficiently. Unfortunately, I do not believe that is happening today.

Fulton County is currently an Entitlement Community, eligible for an annual allocation of approximately $2.5M from HUD. However, because approximately $1M of the $2.5M allocation is spent on administrative cost and salaries, only $1.5M of that funding is available for programs and services.

That $1.5M is split among three programs: Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) Program, and HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME).

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program provides funding for city improvements like sidewalks, road resurfacing, upgrades for parks and recreation centers. Eleven of our 15 cities can access Fulton County CDBG funds. The other four municipalities, Atlanta, Johns Creek, Roswell and Sandy Springs can get these dollars directly from HUD based on their population. The following 9 cities have previously received funding allocations from Fulton County’s CDBG program: Chattahoochee Hills, College Park, East Point, Fairburn, Hapeville, Mountain Park, Milton, Palmetto, and Union City.

The Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) Program provides emergency shelter, homelessness prevention, and related services to persons experiencing homelessness or in danger of becoming homeless. Local emergency shelters, North Fulton Community Charities and Zion Hill Community Development Corporation have been partners for the delivery of ESG services.

The HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) provides funding for help to buy a home with Down Payment Assistance, rental assistance for Fulton County Housing Authority residents and partnerships with local nonprofit groups to build or rehabilitate housing to make it affordable for rent or homeownership. The Fulton County Housing Authority, Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership and mortgage lenders have worked with Fulton County to deliver HOME programs.

In the past, these dollars have not been spent in a timely manner. As a result, today Fulton County has approximately $5M in unspent HUD funds.

I am committed to making sure any available dollars are allocated for projects in our communities for the people who need them. On January 22, the Board of Commissioners will be asked to approve an allocation of $3.1M in HUD funds for various eligible programs. If approved by the Board, that will leave $2M of the initial $5M in HUD funding for additional projects. We will then notify the cities and other partners that this money is available for them to apply for to spend on eligible projects this year.

Moving forward, I believe we can find a better way to address housing and community development issues in our communities. That’s why I am bringing forward a proposal to establish Fulton County’s new City Community Enhancement Program.

This program will replace Fulton County’s existing HUD Entitlement Programs (CDBG, ESG and HOME) and allow cities to access local dollars for the same programs and services that were available under the three HUD programs, including: infrastructure, homeless services, down payment assistance, nonprofit public service support, housing authority rental assistance and home repair. In addition to these local dollars, cities could still apply for the same HUD funds through the state. At the end of the day, MORE resources would be available to them, not less.

My one simple goal is to help the people of Fulton County. By using local dollars locally, we can help more people with no red tape.

I will keep you updated throughout this process.

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