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HUD: City must repay $374,000

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY -- With an April 9 deadline looming, Albany City Commissioners are mulling how they plan to pay back $374,000 in community development funding to the federal government after a local nonprofit failed to follow through on a low-income housing project.

In a letter dated Feb. 9 and presented to the City Commission Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has ruled that federal funds the city used to support Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center's attempts to provide low-income apartment units are ineligible and must be paid back by April 9.

The city decertified Cutliff Grove as a Community Housing Development Organization last year when it failed to secure additional financing for its project.

Cutliff Grove officials have pleaded with commissioners for more time to secure financing for the project, but to no avail. The church has also reached out to U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, who has been asked for assistance in keeping the project alive, authorities say.

Bishop spokesperson Jennie Gibson confirmed that the congressman's Albany office personnel had been contacted by the group in an effort to help, although staff was still researching what options, if any, were available.

During their work session Tuesday, commissioners weighed their options on how to pay the funds back, conceding that no solution will be painless.

Option one requires the city to pay the entire sum from the general fund and then devise some way to force Cutliff Grove to repay the money to the city, either through a lien on the property or a negotiated payment plan.

That option would place the burden on taxpayers, a move some commissioners were uncomfortable with.

"I do have concerns that when I go back to my constituents and they ask me why their tax dollars are going to subsidize this CHDO, how I'll be able to answer them," Ward 1 Commissioner Jon Howard said.

Option two would spare the taxpayers pain in the pocketbooks but would instead pass the cost along to those who benefit from the city's rental assistance and other poverty-based programs.

That option would relinquish funding for the city's HOME program -- a HUD-funded program that provides housing assistance to low-income families.

That option conflicts with the position of many on the Commission who have expressed a desire to work toward eradicating poverty, City Manager Alfred Lott said.

"That is one option, but it was expressed rather clearly to me at the retreat that you all were making poverty a priority and that, of course, would be negatively impacted," Lott said.

Following discussion, the Commission voted to table the issue for a vote until April 6 to give commisioners time to research the matter before making a decision.