Trump budget could axe grant funding for Oak Park

Village received $1.6M in community development money in 2016

March 14th, 2017 1:55 PM

Updated: Mar. 15th, 2017 12:23 PM

Social service cuts: Potential cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant program would be a hard hit to local nonprofit organizations like Housing Forward (left). | File photo

By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Social service agencies, nonprofits and the village itself could lose millions in federal grant funding under a preliminary budget from the Trump administration that has surfaced in recent days.

The Washington Post reported on March 8 that an early draft of the proposed budget it obtained for the Department of Housing and Urban Development would eliminate the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

Oak Park spent $1.6 million in CDBG funds in 2016 on numerous projects connected to public services, infrastructure improvements and economic development.

The village distributes much of the funding to local nonprofit organizations, such as Oak Park Regional Housing Center (promoting housing integration), Housing Forward (homeless support), Sarah's Inn (domestic violence), West Cook YMCA, Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry and Hephzibah (at-risk services) among many others.

The village also uses CDBG funds for infrastructure improvements such as making sidewalks ADA accessible, improving deteriorating alleys and promoting housing rehab programs.

Village officials and heads of nonprofit organizations were not surprised by the news that CDBG grant funds could be eliminated. 

It's not the first time this has happened, said Rob Breymaier, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center. When CDBG funding faced cuts under past administrations, elected officials at the federal and state level rallied in a bipartisan effort to secure the funding, he said. 

This time it's different, Breymaier said, because "we just don't know what to expect from this administration."

The Housing Center received $171,000 in CDBG funds distributed through the village in fiscal year 2016 — the grant program's fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 — to assist in its mission of encouraging racial integration in housing. Breymaier said that makes up roughly 15 percent of the organization's $1.2 million annual budget. 

Those funds help pay the salaries of one seasonal and three full-time employees at the center, Breymaier said. "Without that money, we would lose at least two full-time staff," he said.

Breymaier said Housing Center staff helps find housing for those in Oak Park and encourages people of different races to live in the same areas of town to prevent segregation. The staff also works to provide educational material on fair housing law and other resources to help identify and address housing discrimination.

"You want to be pro-active on these things," Breymaier said.

CDBG cuts also would hit the bottom line of Housing Forward, a social service organization that operates an emergency shelter and works to transition homeless people into permanent housing.

Lynda Schueler, Housing Forward executive director, said she has not seen anything in the press about cuts to HUD's Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, but she and others are concerned that it could be cut as well under Trump's budget.

Schueler said Housing Forward receives about $300,000 annually in CDBG and ESG funding between Oak Park, Cook County and the city of Berwyn. ESG grants constitute about two-thirds of that funding.

"There are numerous program activities funded by that," she said.

Street outreach to homeless people, employment training, shelter service, homeless prevention and the organization's housing program are all partly funded through CDBG and ESG funds, she said.

"Upwards of 1,000 people would be impacted by those programmatic cuts," she said. "The other important thing here is we have 20 communities within our service area, so it's not just Oak Park. Those cuts would be devastating."

Left without funding, Housing Forward officials would have to "make strategic decisions on which programs to cut," Schueler said.

"One of the things we pride ourselves on is the comprehensive nature of our programming."

Grant funding cuts would force Housing Forward to decide "which population are we best going to serve?"

Schueler said Housing Forward staff also is grappling with potential cuts to Medicaid in a revamped health care policy under the Trump Administration as well as the administration's proposal to cut the Corporation for National and Community Service, which funds the AmeriCorps program.

A dozen local AmeriCorps members are made available to Housing Forward, two of which are contracted through Housing Forward to the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry and another two to BEDS Plus Care, a homeless shelter and housing services organization in La Grange.

"We have eight of the 12 [AmeriCorps workers] and that is another significant impact," she said.

Nonprofit organizations are not the only ones that would be hit by elimination of CDBG funds. The village of Oak Park would also be directly impacted. 

The village used $638,759 in CDBG funds in fiscal year 2016 on various infrastructure improvements. Those improvements included $375,000 for alley repairs, $150,000 to make sidewalks accessible to those with mobility impairments, and $113,759 to add ADA-compliant curb ramps to streets around town.

 Tammie Grossman, Oak Park's Development Customer Services director, said CDBG funding has eroded over more than a decade. Drew Williams-Clark, Oak Park Neighborhood Services Manager, said 12 years ago HUD allotted $2.5 million in CDBG funding to the village.

Grossman said that while she, too, is concerned about community development fund cuts, "There's always been strong bipartisan support for CDBG funds."

Once the president's proposed budget is released, it still must go through numerous congressional budget hearings.

"We're taking a wait-and-see attitude on the final budget," she said, noting that municipalities and nonprofits across the country are working with organizations to show budget committee members how vital the grant program is to keeping social services afloat. 

* This article was updated to correct an error. Two of the 12 AmeriCorp workers are at the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry, not the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation. We regret the error.