Elimination of Community Block Grants Could Hurt D.C.

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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One of the leading federal programs which allocate funds to municipalities and states to build housing and infrastructure is in jeopardy of being eliminated by President Donald Trump’s administration. District of Columbia leaders are fighting to prevent its demise.

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is a program that gives communities resources to address a wide range of unique local needs and gives them the flexibility to spend the funds. The program is managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and it provides annual grants based on a formula to approximately 1,209 cities, counties, and states.

D.C. Council member Vincent Gray says the CDBG program should stay alive. (Courtesy Photo)

In the District, there is a possible $14 million loss if the Trump administration guts the program, as it has proposed doing in its first budget, and that concerns D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D). “By making cuts to program that support basic needs like housing and healthcare, this budget will force our city to make tough choices about programs that not only promote growth, but enable us to support our most vulnerable residents,” the mayor said. “As we continue to analyze the [federal] budget and advocating for programs that move the city and country forward, my administration will work with the community and our partners on the D.C. Council to promote and defend D.C. values.”

Bowser has an ally in U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who serves as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and who recently said that the program’s elimination “hurts the African American community.” Bowser has pledged to work with organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the African American Mayors Association and the National League of Cities to lobby the U.S. Congress to keep the program alive.

The grant program’s funds in the District are used to pay for affordable housing projects and infrastructure improvements such as repairing streets and alleys as well as providing down payment assistance to first-time home buyers and funding housing counseling organizations.

When the Ford administration implemented the program in 1975, Arrington Dixon was a member of the inaugural D.C. Council. A council member representing Ward 4 at that time, Dixon praised the program then and does so now.

“This is a program with a record of performance,” Dixon, who eventually became chairman of the council, told the AFRO. “This is a program that meets the needs of people. The cutting of this program should be of great concern.”

D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) served as the city’s mayor from 2011-2015. Gray told the AFRO that when he was mayor, he valued the program’s funds highly. “The Trump administration cutting out the community development block grant program will have a huge impact on the District of Columbia,” Gray said. “That program benefits urban areas. It helps places that don’t have the resources to help its citizens and it is an example of federal and local investment for the growth and renewal of cities.”

Gray said that if the CDBG program isn’t available “it will be devastating to cities around the country.”

D.C. Council member Robert White pointed to one District non-profit that will suffer if the cuts go through Congress. “The CDBG funds are extremely important for non-profits like So Others Might Eat, which received millions of dollars to build new affordable housing and for local small businesses that could finally gain the capital to grow,” White said in a statement to the AFRO. “The thought of the Trump administration making massive cuts to these programs doesn’t sit right with me, and I will do what I can to fight for these desperately needed federal funds.”

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