We question portions of the plan approved Thursday by the Minot City Council to spend $67.5 million in Community Development Block Grant money, most notably we wonder why more money wasn't shifted to two programs to help homeowners repair flooded dwellings.
City finance director Cindy Hemphill noted that a downtown housing project proposed to receive $3 million in CDBG funds would give some displaced flood victims a home outside the valley. The city agreed to invest in the project in exchange for a guarantee from the developer that 20 percent of the apartments (roughly 54 units) would have reduced rents for three years to help make them accessible to low- to moderate-income residents. However, after three years, the apartment owner could charge market rates for rent, so the agreement isn't a longterm solution. Hemphill said three years is a minimum requirement set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Is three years enough of a return on a $3 million city investment?
Alderman Bob Miller summed up the feelings of many residents, arguing that the city is "financing too many things that were already being considered prior to the flood." The downtown apartment project and the Sixth Street underpass repair certainly both fall into that category. The council did shift half of $4.5 million to be used for the underpass repair to two programs to help displaced homeowners repair or reconstruct homes, but an amendment to redirect the $3 million from the downtown housing project toward those programs was rejected.
The downtown housing project is a good idea, and we'd like to see it get built, especially if it includes at least some low- and moderate-income units, although there certainly is a need for more of those units in the Minot area. But we wonder if tapping CDBG funding that is coming to the city to help with flood recovery issues and projects is the best way for the city to help such a project.