Oakland Community Worries About Future of Federal Neighborhood Funding


Confusion and disagreement over the way the city allocates its federal funding for low- and moderate-income neighborhoods has some residents worried that their neighborhood will not be getting proper say in the allocation process.Since the 1970s, Oakland has received Community Development Block Grant funds annually from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development specifically designed to address the needs of lower income communities.


For decades, each of Oakland’s seven Community Development districts had its own board made up of local volunteers who determined how funds were distributed within their own neighborhoods.


“We have been allocating funds in our district for what we felt needed to be funded. That’s the way it’s always been,” said Gladys Green, chairperson for District 7.


In recent years, however, confusion over funding allocation has caused several districts to become less involved – three of the seven districts do not even have a board chair listed on the program’s web site.


Meanwhile, the city’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) staff has made disputed attempts to redesign the allocation process.


In 2012, the city’s CDBG staff proposed reconfiguring the seven Community Development district boards into one “City-wide Advisory Board.” And more recently, staff began pushing the idea of utilizing something called a participatory budgeting process.


Both plans have had com- munity members, CDBG board chairs and councilmem- bers concerned about who will oversee next year’s funding. This year, the program is receiving $7,076,798 in CDBG funds.
“We didn’t need that (budgeting) service, and we didn’t do that before,” said Green of District 7.


“I think the staff from the (city’s) Department of Community and Economic Development is trying to allocate and do what they want to with our funds because (HUD) has cut the money drastically,” she said.
At an open CDBG meeting on Aug. 31, several community members expressed discontent with the participatory budgeting process. Since then, CDBG acting manager Gregory Garrett said his staff has put plans for the process “on hold.”
“We are working with prospective Community Development districts to determine how funds will be allocated,” Garrett wrote in an email to the Post.
Still, many remain displeased with other unsettling parts of the program.


District 5 Chairperson Monique Rivera said one of her main concerns is that CDBG staff has yet to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for the upcoming funding cycle.


“We’re getting to a time frame where if we don’t get RFPs out, then we won’t be able to get the funding (to the neighborhoods),” said Rivera. “You need a good six months to effectively ask for RFPs, so that’s what’s concerning to me.”


If the RFPs are not completed before a certain date, which staff has not yet announced, then the community boards will no longer be able to allocate their own funding, and instead city staff can choose what to do with the money.
“The reality is that staff has stifled the voices of the community because they haven’t done what work is necessary to put the RFP on the street,” said Councilmember Desley Brooks. “They are effectively killing the boards.”


Now, Rivera said she plans to work with board chairs and councilmembers to come up with a comprehensive structure for the CDBG funds and having Council vote on it, rather than waiting for staff at risk of missing the RFP deadline.


“We aren’t approaching this in a way that’s getting us anywhere and I’m really scared we aren’t going to have any say into this last cycle,” said Rivera.


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