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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 21, 2014

SCHUMER ANNOUNCES CAMPAIGN TO FIGHT ELIMINATION OF ONE OF NIAGARA FALLS’ MOST VITAL FEDERAL PROGRAMS – RULE CHANGE WOULD CUT CITY OFF FROM THE CDBG FUNDS THAT ARE SO VITAL TO ITS TURNAROUND SIMPLY BECAUSE POPULATION HAS SLIGHTLY DIPPED FROM 50K RESIDENTS TO 49K


Schumer Says Federal Community Development Funding is One of the Most Important Programs Helping To Turn Around Niagara Falls’ Economy – But a New Plan Being Considered by HUD Could Pull Funding Away From Cities Whose Population Has Fallen Below 50K, Like Niagara Falls


HUD is Slated to Propose to Congress a Series of Changes to These Programs this Year – Schumer Vows to Fight to Maintain Funding for Niagara Falls


Schumer: HUD Must Keep Community Development Funding Flowing to Niagara Falls

Today, in Niagara Falls, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer launched his campaign to prevent the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from reforming the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) in a way that would remove Niagara Falls from eligibility and deprive the City of over $2 million per year in funds it relies on. Currently, cities must have a population of at least 50,000 to be eligible for a yearly allocation of CDBG funds, and cities like Niagara Falls – which just recently slipped to 49,700 people – have been allowed to maintain their eligibility through a “grandfathering” provision. HUD is currently considering ending the practice of grandfathering cities that have slipped below 50,000, and is slated to present a legislative package of reforms to Congress later this year. Schumer will say that he will staunchly oppose any proposal to strip Niagara Falls of CDBG-eligibility, and he will do everything in his power to prevent it from being included in HUD’s recommendations to Congress. The CDBG Program is a highly-flexible federal grant program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs, likeessential youth programs, blight removal efforts, crime prevention initiatives, and much more.

 

“Federal community development block grant dollars have helped turn around Niagara Falls in a big way, helping them leverage private financing and complete a number of hugely beneficial community projects,” said Schumer. “But just as the resurgence of Niagara Falls is picking up steam, HUD is considering reforming the grant program to deny cities like Niagara Falls these crucial funds. It makes absolutely no sense to me to take away the very funding that is driving the rebirth of Niagara Falls because of a minor technicality. So, I’m putting HUD on high alert right now that I will staunchly oppose any proposal to remove Niagara Falls eligibility for yearly CDBG funds.”

 

Schumer stood at the site of the Isaiah 61 Project, which is using CDBG dollars to train young people in the building and construction trades. He detailed a number of local projects in Niagara Falls that have received CDBG funds and how they have helped turn around areas of the City. He was joined by Mayor Paul Dyster, Director of Community Development Seth Piccirillo, members of the City Council, and local program and project leaders who depends on federal Community Development funds.


“The City of Niagara Falls uses annual HUD funds responsibly and effectively. Our residents see the positive result of HUD’s investment every day,” said Mayor Dyster. “These dollars renovate homes, assist first time homebuyers, improve local businesses, demolish blighted buildings, and provide youth programming for the children who need it most. Our 2014 CDBG Action Plan leveraged over $15 million in local investment for improved projects. That type of return on investment benefits all levels of government and the entire community. Which is why it's so important to have Senator Schumer's help ensuring that Niagara Falls continues to get annual funding from HUD.”

“Our region is seeing population stabilization for the first time in a generation,” said Seth Piccirillo, Director of Community Development. “We need HUD’s assistance to continue that trend and help strengthen our neighborhoods. Niagara Falls is finding new and innovative ways to use federal funds to make concrete community improvements. Now more than ever, we have the opportunity to make transformative change in partnership with HUD.”

 

In order to be eligible for an automatic annual allotment of CDBG funds as an “entitlement city,” a city must have a population of at least 50,000. Recently, the City of Niagara Falls slipped just below the minimum threshold with a population of 49,700. Under current eligibility rules, Niagara Falls is “grandfathered” into the program and can still receive annual CDBG funds directly from HUD. However, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is considering ending the practice of grandfathering cities, instead making the 50,000-person population threshold a hard cap. This change was proposed in the Administration’s FY2014 budget but was never enacted. This year, the Administration is directing HUD to propose a package of legislative reforms to the CDBG program to Congress, and HUD is again considering removing the grandfathering provision for entitlement cities. Cities or towns under 50,000 can still receive CDBG dollars, but they must compete for funds from the overall allocation to the state, and typically receive much smaller awards. Entitlement cities like Niagara Falls currently receive an annual allotment directly from HUD; ending such an arrangement would make it much more difficult for Niagara Falls to secure CDBG funds.

 

Schumer said that such a hard cap was unfair to cities like Niagara Falls, which makes great use of the funds and only just slipped below the minimum population requirement. Schumer also highlighted that CDBG funds are playing in critical role in helping to grow Niagara Falls population, and workforce – and so cutting the city off from the funds now could stunt the progress that is being made. Therefore, Schumer launched a campaign to fight the elimination of Niagara Falls from the program, saying to HUD that he would staunchly oppose any proposal to Congress to reform CDBG that includes the end of the grandfathering provision for cities like Niagara Falls. Schumer sits on the Banking Committee, which would likely have jurisdiction over any proposed changes to the CDBG eligibility rules.

 

At the future home of the Isaiah 61 Project, which is currently using CDBG funds to not only rehab an abandoned fire house into its headquarters, but also is using the funds to train young people in the building and construction trades. Schumer gave examples of past projects that Niagara Falls was able to undertake thanks to CDBG funds. Without CDBG funding, the City of Niagara Falls could not have:

 

  • Partnered with the Niagara Falls School District to build a new playground at Gill Creek Park, helping to make the community more livable for young families.
  • Demolished over 50 blighted, crumbling buildings that were attracting crime and dragging down their neighborhoods and helped prime those parcels for redevelopment.
  • Improved 52 storefronts around Niagara Falls, helping to improve commercial activity throughout downtown and support local business owners.
  • Funded the Niagara Falls Housing Authority “I Can Read Program,” New Jerusalem Reporting Center “At Risk Juvenile Offender Counseling” Program, Youth Motivation’s Early Detection and Correction Program, and the Niagara Falls Police Department’s Youth Empowerment Program
  • Funded the Isaiah 61 Project’s innovative pre-demolition salvage program. This project pays under-employed residents to salvage building materials for re-sale, prior to demolition.

 

 In 2014, Niagara Falls will use CDBG funds to make needed improvements at D’Amelio Park, repair streets, sidewalks and lighting in residential areas, and continue funding the Isaiah 61 Project. Niagara Falls will also use the funds to create the Niagara Falls Police Ranger Program to increase police foot patrols and hire local young people to act as city ambassadors in the downtown core. Schumer made the point that every CDBG action plan leverages over 100% in matched investment every year, and in the case of Niagara Falls, if funds this year were at risk, the loss of $2.1 million in CDBG funding in FY2014 would mean the loss of over $15.2 million in matching funds. A similar impact can be expected in FY2015, when the funds are at risk.

 

“CDBG funds have built parks, renovated homes, and put many in Niagara Falls back to work,” Schumer continued. “Now is not the time to cut Niagara Falls off from federal grant dollars, which have spurred redevelopment and driven the local economy.”

 

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to HUD appears below:

 

Dear Secretary Donovan,

 

I write to you to share my concern about the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) forthcoming legislative package to reform the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG).  HUD’s planning documents for “Moving CDBG Forward,” as well as the Administration’s FY2014 budget, included proposals for ending the practice of grandfathering cities in the CDBG Entitlement Communities program. Grandfathering has allowed cities that have held a population above 50,000 for two consecutive years, but have since dropped below a population of 50,000, to keep their annual CDBG allocation from HUD. One of the cities that would be most impacted by this proposal to end grandfathering would be Niagara Falls.

 

Last year, the population of Niagara Falls dropped to 49,700 – just 300 under the minimum threshold of 50,000 to qualify for the Entitlement Communities program. If Niagara Falls were to be removed from the program, it would lose approximately $2 million in federal investment per year. Because CDBG allocations help localities leverage local, state, and private investment, losing $2 million in federal funding equates to approximately $15 million in lost investment, based on Niagara Falls 2014 CDBG Action Plan.

 

In Niagara Falls, CDBG dollars have helped fuel the city’s redevelopment efforts. For example, over the past few years, CDBG funding has helped Niagara Falls demolish over 50 blighted, crumbling buildings that were attracting crime and dragging down their neighborhoods; attract first time homeowners to the City; and establish programs to train underemployed residents in the construction and building trades. In 2014, the annual CDBG allocation will allow Niagara Falls to repair streets, sidewalks, and lighting in residential areas, improve community policing, and much more. Were Niagara Falls to be made ineligible for an annual CDBG allocation, they would have to compete with an ever-decreasing pot of state funding, rather than receiving a predictable annual amount directly from HUD.

 

CDBG is an invaluable resource to our communities across New York State. I look forward to engaging in a dialogue about making CDBG a strong program for future generations, but I will be unable to support a proposal that would eliminate the grandfathering of cities like Niagara Falls from the Entitlement Communities program. 

 

Sincerely,

 

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

 

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