To provide a little context to Mayor Laura's earlier missive about the fate of the Business Assistance Center in Oak Cliff and the future of others who come before the council to request federal block grant money, here's a note sent along by one of Unfair Park's favorite contributors, Lorlee Bartos. Turns out she has a particular interest in this subject: She served on the city's Community Development Commission (CDC) for eight years and was, at one point, the chair of the Benchmarking/Financial Monitoring/Performance Standards Committee. She retired from the CDC in January and is only too happy to offer her institutional memory concerning the doling out of government funds:
"When I first was on the board, the policy was to fund bricks and mortar [projects for private entities]. I agree with the mayor--and did agree then--that is a bad policy for all of the reasons she listed in her message and more.
The commission ended up funding buildings, and we would be overrun with applications from groups with no fiscal plans, no track records, etc. But because it was pork for some council members they would get passed. The council did pass that resolution, and things got a whole lot easier. CDC does fund about five or six Business Assistance Centers with dollars for operation (about $80,000 per year when I was there).
However, I disagree with the mayor on the use of those dollars to repair city buildings. That is the city's responsility. CDC funds are intended to build communities, and my view is that you do that mainly through housing and jobs. The funds are intended to provide an extra boost, not used to maintain what the city should already maintain.
Also, since the city provides none of its own dollars for housing programs, I always felt that they should at least be providing the dollars to fund the staff to administer the programs. And if you really want to get me started, ask me about the $30 million of CDC dollars that were used to fund downtown housing. I don't object to downtown housing, just that it shouldn't have been funded on the backs of poor people. I objected long and loud to the council, to the media, to anyone who would listen. But then I was trying to defend a group of people with no voice and no one wants to hear."
OK, gotta ask: What about the $30 million that went toward downtown housing? --Robert Wilonsky