City of Miami

Miami mayor: City will fight to keep fed funding for housing, anti-poverty programs

Miami city administrators said Thursday they will do “everything possible” to avoid losing out on $5.8 million in federal community development funds.

The promise came days after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development threatened to penalize Miami for failing to spend $13.3 million in Community Development Block Grants over the past three years. Cities that do not adhere to a strict spending schedule can see their funding reduced.

Commissioners slammed the city administration for not spending the money fast enough. CDBG dollars can go toward affordable housing, economic development and anti-poverty programs. In Miami, they fund daycares like the Centro Mater in Little Havana and community centers such as the Allapattah Community Action Center.

“This is a very serious issue,” Commissioner Francis Suarez said.

Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo promised a quick solution.

“We are going to do everything possible not only to spend down the funds that are in place, but to work with officials in Washington to explain our situation,” she said. “We are going to do everything in our power to make sure our funding is not removed.”

Commissioner Frank Carollo said he was “baffled” by the situation, in part because he attended a meeting with HUD consultants earlier this month at which Miami administrators were told the city was in full compliance.

Miami Community Development Director George Mensah said the HUD consultants must have received bad information from the federal government.

Under HUD guidelines, grant recipients can keep up to 1.5 times the amount of their annual allocation on reserve, in a HUD line of credit. Miami received about $5 million in 2012, meaning its fund balance could be as high as $7.5 million. But as of last month, the CDBG balance topped $13.2 million.

Mensah said the city was having problems, in part, because the feds have reduced the amount Miami could keep on reserve.

“In some ways, this is a mathematical issue,” he said.

But neither he nor City Manager Johnny Martinez nor Mayor Tomás Regalado answered questions from commissioners and a reporter about why the allocated money had not been spent over three years.

Earlier in the day, Regalado told The Miami Herald that city administrators were working to schedule a meeting with HUD officials in Washington, D.C.

“We’re not going to lose that money,” Regalado pledged.

The mayor noted that some CDBG-funded projects were moving forward, including a new community center in Little Havana and road repairs in District 4.

Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones implored city leaders to do a better job of moving projects along.

“We need to make sure that if we have projects sitting there, that we move the money,” she said. “At the end of the day, whatever we’re not doing affects the whole entire city.”

In other business, Carollo sponsored a resolution directing the building department to deny 40-year building re-certifications when properties have outstanding code violations or are deemed unsafe.

The proposal came in response to a series of stories in El Nuevo Herald about Little Havana condominium owners who saw their floors collapse and who had little recourse.

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