New member opposition failed to sideline Lakewood’s City Council from moving forward with approving an ordinance endorsing the City’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Annual Plan during the April 11 regular meeting.

The ordinance passed by a vote of 9-1 with only Mary Janssen (Ward 5) in opposition. Jeslin Shahrezaei (Ward 1) recused herself from the vote due to a work conflict.

Before the vote was taken, Janssen cited the current national debt and her belief that many CDBG projects shouldn’t receive federal funding, as reasons for her opposition.

The action plan outlines the projects and funding levels for the 2022 program year, which begins June 1.

According to Amy DeKnikker, principal planner and Lakewood CDBG program manager, the CDBG is a federal grant administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that is managed by Lakewood’s Comprehensive Planning and Research Division. She said HUD allocates funds to states, counties and cities to spend on projects that address local housing, social service and community development needs. The annual allocation amount is based on a formula derived from population, poverty rate, income and age of housing stock.

“These grant funds are either used directly through city programs or they’re passed through to nonprofits or housing providers to complete activities that address the needs of the community,” she said. “Lakewood has received CDBG funds since 1974, which was the first year of the program, and is allocated approximately $900,000 annually.”

All CDBG-funded projects have to meet at lease one national objective, the list of which includes, being of benefit to moderate and/or low-income earners, reducing or eliminating slum or blight or addressing an urgent community need — such as a natural disaster.

DeKnikker said in Lakewood, the majority of the funds are used to help lower-income people. Projects typically benefit low-income areas with infrastructure and neighborhood park improvements. Other uses could include rental assistance, direct supportive services, rehabilitation and special code enforcement activities, to name a few. And as is the case for most federal funds, there are a variety of rules and regulations that must be met when spending the money.

Every five years, HUD requires grantees to identify the biggest housing needs in their community and outline how those needs will be addressed for the five-year period. The document created in this process becomes the City’s Consolidated Plan.

In the current Lakewood plan (2020-2024), the biggest priorities identified fell into three categories:

  • Neighborhood Improvements in Low-Income Areas
  • Housing Preservation, Rehabilitation and Improvements
  • Supportive Services for Low-Income and Special Needs People — a group that includes seniors, people with disabilities and the homeless — was also seen as a priority for the funds

Each year, the City presents the action plan, which outlines projects and funding levels, to HUD.

This year’s action plan includes projects like $500,000 to the Patterson Head Start cottages and $190,000 for solid ground water taps required for the Jefferson Center’s new affordable housing development.

The plan also budgets $16,000 for a neighborhood clean-up event, $50,000 for homeless services and $85,000 to help low-income homeowners make urgently needed repairs to their homes. A full list of proposed projects can be found on the website. 

In case you’re wondering why a clean-up event would be so costly, DeKnikker explained that as part of the event, residents from the city’s low-income neighborhoods are able to recycle outdated electronics, worn tires, old appliances and over-sized items that typically require a disposal fee, free of charge.

Council also voted on ordinance 0-2022-4, Authorizing Unbudgeted Expenditure of Grant Funds in Excess of $50,000 from Colorado Department of Local Affairs Affordable Housing Planning Grant Program for a Strategic Housing Strategy and Action Plan.

The ordinance passed on a vote of 9-2 with Janssen and Rich Olver (Ward 4) voting against.

Expressing her opposition, Janssen said, “Again, this is for apartment houses.”

In a video staff presentation on the ordinance, DeKnikker outlines the need for the Housing Strategy and Action Plan, referencing the drastic rise the city has seen in housing costs, compared to relatively flat growth in income, leading to a community where many workers can’t afford to live.

DeKnikker said a Lakewood specific action plan can help create more affordable housing options for Lakewood residents.

The City’s data says that 1-in-2 Lakewood residents are paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs, with some professions like servers, bus drivers, bank tellers and home health aide’s paying well over that. DeKnikker said the City’s 2020-2024 Consolidated Plan showed that 70% of Lakewood renters worry that their rent will increase to an amount they cannot afford.