Federal funds help Princeton aid low and moderate income residents

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Princeton will use $225,797 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to address affordable housing and supporting households impacted by COVID-19 in 2021.

The municipality is receiving the funds through the federal Community Development Block Grant program under HUD. The program provides grants to municipalities and counties to aid low and moderate income residents.

One of the two goals being addressed with 2021’s funding will be to preserve and protect existing affordable housing. For this goal, $172,927 is to be allocated from the federal funding to allow the Princeton Housing Authority (PHA) to make necessary upgrades to existing PHA affordable housing units.

According to a presentation on Aug. 9 by Mark Leckington of Leckington Advisors, who works on affordable housing issues and grant management for CDBG, a substantial amendment of the 2020 Annual Action plan cancelled a similar project.

2021’s project intends to take on the cancelled project and provide additional funding.

“The most likely destination of these funds will be to replace boilers on a group of units on Clay Street,” Leckington said. “These are aging and efficient and would provide more reliable heat and hot water and also lower the carrying cost the PHA has to pay on running and maintenance and fuel for these systems.”

Additionally, the second goal also being addressed focuses on supporting low and moderate income households impacted by COVID-19 with utility assistance. There will be $33,870 set aside in 2021 from the awarded funds.

“The funds would be used to help people maintain their utilities in the event of a shut off notice, which in the winter and heating months if you lose your gas or electricity, that is an almost guarantee that you would be seeking emergency shelter or become homeless,” Leckington said. “The idea here is to help people who would be in those situations.”

He described that the funds would likely be able to serve about 40 families and administered by a nonprofit partner in the community. That nonprofit partner would be secured through a bidding process.

A substantial amendment has also been made from the 2020 CDBG annual action plan.

PHA, in 2020’s plan, was awarded $70,000 for capital improvements and that line item is being eliminated from 2020 plan and being moved to the 2021 plan. The move was able to be made because the project had not yet started.

The administration line item is also being amended, according to the presentation. It was originally set at over $100,000. There were two different sources of funding for administration in 2020, which were $48,560 from the CDBG allocation in 2020 and the $66,785 from CARES Act funding.

“However, in going over the administrative costs last year the municipality spent far less on the administration program,” Leckington said. “We are able to reprogram the funds and put them into projects, so we are taking ($61,345) from that budget last year and moving it into projects.”

The reprogrammed funds would add funding to utility assistance, additional funds for child care, vision and dental checkups for low and moderate income families, and the municipality purchasing COVID-19-related equipment and PPE.

At a Princeton Council meeting on Aug. 9, members of the council approved resolutions authorizing the submission of a substantial amendment to the 2020 annual action plan for CDBG program and submission of the 2021 CDBG program annual action plan.

The federal CDBG program is new to Princeton and after recently qualifying as a principal city of a Metropolitan Statistic Area, since the consolidation.

HUD identifies new towns that qualify as eligible and in 2019 Princeton was notified of its eligibility. The municipality had a mass of low and moderate income people in the community, which qualified Princeton.

The program has a series of overarching goals. They include: Providing safety housing and suitable living environment, expanding economic opportunities, and principally benefit low and moderate income persons.

Every project that Princeton funds with the federal money received has to principally benefit low and moderate income people, which means 51% of people who benefit from this program need to be of modest needs.

Also only 20% of the annual allocation can be spent on what HUD calls administration. Administration would include planning and staff time at the municipality for preparing plans.

There is a cap on the amount money that can be spent on public services, which is limited to 15% of the funding. Public services are defined as those things of providing a direct service to a family.

For instance if you were going to run a camp for children at the housing authority, that is a public service and would fall under this cap, Leckington explained.

“Most people that will benefit from this type of program or the use of these funds are people who are living in the Princeton Housing Authority or some other restricted income housing, which Princeton is fortunate to have a healthy supply of, so people living in Griggs Farm and other affordable housing developments would just by nature be able to very likely participate in these programs,” he said.

However, Leckington did express that just because people are living in Griggs Farm, that does not necessarily mean they are eligible for these programs.

“For example, the state affordable housing regulations only require you to be income certified once if you buy or rent an affordable housing unit. In order to participate in a CBDG program you have to be able to document that you are currently low and moderate income.

“So if you moved into a unit 10 years ago and that particular housing unit did not have the requirement of doing annual recertification, then you may not be eligible 10 years later; your income might have gone up and may no longer be eligible,” he said.