The City of Minot's plan for spending disaster recovery funds should include more money for flooded homeowners and less for administration and infrastructure.
That was the message of residents who attended a public hearing Thursday on a proposed action plan for more than $67.5 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds.
There was strong feeling against using grant funds for storm sewer repair at the Sixth Street underpass, which for years has been on the city's list of areas needing repair.
"That's what we are paying taxes for," said Gary Panasuk of Minot, who also objected to giving any CDBG funds to developers.
The plan calls for using $5 million to pay for infrastructure to support a 600-unit housing project in northeast Minot in exchange for half of the units qualifying as affordable housing.
Representatives of agencies assisting with disaster recovery also asked the city to consider doing more.
"Sixty homes is a small number relative to the need in the community," Shirley Dykshoorn, state director with Lutheran Disaster Response, said in reference to a proposal to assist homeowners with repairs. The plan sets aside $3.42 million to assist about 60 low- to moderate-income households. Another $8.4 million is reserved to assist about 56 households with reconstruction if their homes can't be repaired.
Housing and Urban Development, which provided the grant, prohibits any cash payments or reimbursements to homeowners. Those who haven't started work because they need help can apply for assistance. The city would hire a contractor for them and reimburse the contractor.
One resident voiced frustration that he was told he wouldn't get free garbage pickup because he started gutting his house too late and now is being told he started rebuilding too early to qualify for grant assistance.
Several people spoke in favor of directing more or all the funds toward direct assistance to flood victims.
Mark Lyman, spokesman for the city, noted that action plan proposes to spend 63 percent of funds on projects to assist people of low to moderate income. The definition of low to moderate income is 80 percent of the county median income. A family of four could earn $51,050 or a couple $40,850.
Connie Samuelson, whose home was flooded, questioned the low- to moderate-income designation, noting that many middle-income people affected by the flood are struggling financially.
"Now I am low income because I have no discretionary income left," she said.
"I am concerned that the action plan doesn't adequately provide for the low- to -moderate income," said Breezy Schmidt with Legal Services of North Dakota. She said it appears an inordinate share of the funding is going toward what the city describes as "urgent" needs, although the infrastructure projects proposed don't appear urgent.
She recommended assisting to create a homeless shelter and transitional housing.
The Rev. Debra Ball-Kilbourne, a supervisor with Resources Agencies Flood Team (RAFT), said the city could partner with nonprofit groups that already are working on projects to address the needs of homeless and very low income residents. She also said the action plan spends too much on administration.
"The administrative costs are very, very difficult for me to feel good about," she said.
Terri Aldrich, executive director with Minot Area Council of the Arts, suggested the city partner with Artspace to fund an extra $300,000 that the developer needs to complete a 34-unit, affordable housing project downtown. That project is ready to build, she said, comparing it to another downtown apartment project that the city's plan proposes to fund.
The city proposes to spend $3 million on a parking facility for two downtown apartment complexes that would include about 54 units for low- to moderate-income residents.
People can comment on the plan before July 3 at (www.minotrecoveryinfo.com) or (www.minotnd.org) or by writing the City of Minot, P.O. Box 5006, Minot, ND 58702. The Minot City Council will consider the plan at a special meeting July 12.