On Thursday February 24th Congressman Mike Capuano (D-08) hosted a roundtable discussion with area mayors to highlight the devastating impact that President Bush's proposed dismantling of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program will have on Massachusetts. The discussion, held in the Community Room at Mission Main in Boston, included mayors from 8 Massachusetts communities. (see photos)
Last year alone, the CDBG program brought more than $120 million in flexible economic development funding to Massachusetts cities and towns. President Bush has proposed eliminating the CDBG program and replacing it with a similar program run by the Department of Commerce while cutting funding by at least 35%. This shift would change the way the money is distributed so that it can no longer be used for affordable housing initiatives.
"As the former Mayor of Somerville, I know firsthand how critically important this funding is to the quality of life in our communities. It has helped improve countless neighborhoods over the years. CDBG money can be used to fund down payment assistance programs, create and preserve affordable housing, improve storefronts and renovate deteriorating structures," stated Congressman Capuano.
"CDBG money can even be used for simple enhancements like planting trees or renovating parks. Our cities and towns are already struggling under the weight of reduced state aid. Cutting the CDBG program will force communities to make very difficult funding choices and many valuable initiatives may not survive," stated Congressman Mike Capuano.
In Boston, CDBG money is used to assist eligible families with the down payment and closing costs associated with purchasing a home, helping make the dream of homeownership a reality for many families. It is used to fund the City's successful Main Streets Program and its Senior Homeowner Services Programs. It also helps fund English as a Second Language classes, childcare services and youth programs. Most importantly, it has helped the City of Boston create and preserve hundreds of units of affordable housing.
"President Bush's proposal to eliminate the CDBG program would have a devastating impact on Boston. We estimate that Boston could lose over $23 million in funding. We use CDBG money to fund a broad range of programs that serve our most vulnerable citizens - the homeless, seniors, and people of low-income," Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. "CDBG grants also provide us with the building blocks to revitalize Boston's neighborhoods, funding programs such as my Leading the Way housing program and Boston Main Streets. CDBG grants allow us to keep Boston moving forward, but our ability to serve Boston residents and keep our city strong will be severely hindered if Congress passes the President's budget."
If the Bush budget is approved communities like Boston, which devote some of their CDBG money for affordable housing initiatives, may no longer have that option. The President has not only proposed a 35% cut in the CDBG program, but he is also advocating moving the program to the Department of Commerce, where the funds would not be directed at affordable housing initiatives. In addition, the Bush budget proposes changing the formula, so communities with higher average incomes might be excluded from the program entirely. This would seriously hinder efforts to create housing for low and middle-income families in the Greater Boston area.
In Somerville, CDBG funds were used to create, preserve, and rehabilitate more than 100 units of affordable housing last year. CDBG money also helps fund the Storefront Improvement Program, which helps small business owners improve their building facades. The funding was also important to the redevelopment of the Boynton Yards from an industrial wasteland to working commercial space. Finally, CDBG funding supports dozens of public service agencies that provide everything from language instruction to recreation programs to Somerville residents.
"President Bush said in his State of the Union address that he wants to help the faith-based and community groups that help those subjected to our societies harshest realities, yet he's cutting the very programs that help kids stay away from drugs, provide housing and opportunity for mentally disabled citizens, protect battered women from further abuse, and allow low-income families to own their own homes. These CDBG funded programs are run by the very groups President Bush says he wants to promote, yet he's cutting Somerville's FY06 funding by 35 percent. Cities like Somerville have been subjected to four years of relentless cuts by both the Romney and Bush Administrations. It's time to put a stop to it. Congressman Capuano deserves enormous credit for coming directly to the communities affected to hear our concerns and for being willing to fight these cuts in Washington. We will do everything we can to support his efforts," stated Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone.
In Cambridge, CDBG funds have helped provide transportation and other services for the elderly, assist food pantries, fund youth services and enhance open space. In FY 2004 alone, 63 new affordable housing units were created and 157 more were rehabilitated. Dozens of small businesses were also helped through the economic development programs made possible by this money. A small sampling of organizations that have benefited from CDBG money include the Cambridge Affordable Housing Corporation, the Women's Educational Center, Concilio Hispano, Food for Free, and Adolescent Consultation Services.
"The President has failed to recognize the power and promise of the CDBG program for municipalities, particularly in meeting local affordable housing needs," stated Cambridge Mayor Michael A. Sullivan. "When a local community, like Cambridge, can take its federal allocation of $3.8 million and leverage $37 million in private, local, and state funds that is a sensible and worthwhile investment for the President to make in local communities."
"This is just a very small sampling of the programs and services that face elimination if the President's budget is approved. Almost everywhere you look, Community Development Block Grant money is working to improve your neighborhood in so many ways," stated Congressman Capuano.
Other communities in Massachusetts, such as Chelsea, do not receive direct CDBG funding. However, they are eligible to apply for funding through the states annual allocation of CDBG funds. That money is also in jeopardy.
Participating mayors included Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Cambridge Mayor Michael Sullivan, Fall River Mayor Edward Lambert, Lynn Mayor Edward Clancy, Newton Mayor David Cohen, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Taunton Mayor Robert Nunes and Amesbury Mayor David Hildt. Mayor Hildt is currently serving as President of the Massachusetts Mayors' Association. State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez and Boston City Councilor Mike Ross also participated in the discussion.
Contact: Alison M. Mills (617) 621-6208