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Alhambra City Council Hears Report on Funding for Low and Moderate-Income Residents

Alhambra resident Thanh Vuong speakers in front of City Council about its HUD evaluation report on Monday, Sept. 23. Photo by Bryan Kim.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

The Alhambra city manager’s office presented a report to the City Council Monday night evaluating how federal funding for Alhambra’s low and moderate-income populations was spent during the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

The report, from the office of Jessica Binnquist, was criticized by many local residents and advocates who said that the funding too often went to infrastructure projects and code enforcement activities, rather than efforts to create affordable housing opportunities in Alhambra.

The evaluation detailed how Community Development Block Grant and HOME funds provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development were used towards fulfilling affordable housing and community development goals for low and moderate-income Alhambra residents during the fiscal year, which ended on June 30. The goals are part of a five-year plan for these funds that was submitted by the city to HUD. The 2018-2019 fiscal year is the fourth year for implementing these goals.

Alhambra had $980,426 in CDBG funding and $531,273 in HOME funding available for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, according to the report. Among the city’s accomplishments were funding two major home rehabilitation projects using HOME money, and funding three minor home rehabilitation projects using CDBG money. A first-time homebuyer was able to open escrow using down-payment assistance from these funds, while three other households have qualified for first-time homebuyer assistance, and are looking for a house to buy. The city is about to complete a renovation and expansion of a property at 910 Benito Ave into a three-bedroom affordable housing unit, purchased through the Housing Asset Fund in 2016.

These funds also went towards code enforcement, with 605 violations out of a total of 1,016 being in low and moderate-income areas of the city. Seventy-two of code enforcement’s 182 referrals made to the Housing Rehabilitation Program were from low and moderate-income households. And $600,000 in unallocated CDBG funding was used for capital improvement projects, including resurfacing streets, sidewalks, curbs and driveway approaches, and installing ADA-compliant ramps, benefitting almost 2,000 low and moderate-income residents.

Several residents said that the city shouldn’t use this funding for code enforcement and capital improvements. Instead, that funding should come entirely from the city’s general fund, through which code enforcement and infrastructure improvements are also budgeted. They said that CDBG and HOME funding should be better used for affordable housing, including helping the city’s renters, who make up around 60 percent of Alhambra’s population, according to the American Community Survey. Right now, the funding focuses mainly on homeownership.

There was also criticism over the lack of input into this report, which underwent a 15-day public comment period, and was shown to the HCDA Citizens Advisory Committee, made up of Alhambra residents appointed by the City Council. Assistant City Manager Lucy Garcia said that the report was shown on Sept. 3 to the HCDA committee, but that there was no quorum for them to recommend approval of the report. She said, however, that the members who were present did provide input.

Eric Sunada*, an HCDA commissioner, said that the committee had only met three times this year. He recommended that the city bring the report back to the committee so that they could officially give input. “Whether you take those inputs or not, it’s up to you, but it’s our right to be able to supply those inputs to you as part of the community,” he said.

Other speakers included Li’i Furimoto, project director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles’ Youth and Parent Leadership Development Unit. She brought several Asian-immigrant residents with her to the meeting. One of them, Thanh Vuong, a Vietnamese immigrant who has lived in Alhambra for 21 years, spoke before the City Council, asking them to make more use of this funding for affordable housing.

Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler asked about what could be done to better utilize the HCDA committee. Binnquist addressed the quorum question saying that City Council members are usually informed if their commissioners are absent for three meetings in a row, and that the specific Council member then has the option to replace them. She added that the city will soon work on a new five-year plan for CDBG and HOME funding, where the City Council, HCDA commissioners and residents could discuss new goals. A training session on this process will likely be scheduled for the Oct. 28 City Council meeting. The Council members in attendance voted unanimously to approve this report. Councilmembers Katherine Lee and Jeff Maloney were not present.

In other business, the Council unanimously adopted a second reading of an ordinance to change City Hall and Utilities Department Customer Service Center business hours from 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, with both being closed on Friday. Both are currently open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. A city staff report said that doing this would allow residents to access city services before and after work. The ordinance will take effect 40 days after adoption.

The Council also officially adopted new meeting rules, replacing Robert’s Rules of Order with a set of simplified parliamentary rules, Rosenberg’s Rules of Order. City Council meetings will also start at 6 p.m. rather than 5:30 p.m. These new rules will go into effect 40 days after adoption. The ordinance passed easily after a meeting two weeks ago, where the Council considered limiting public speaker time from 5 minutes to 3 minutes, and requiring speakers to turn in speaker cards before the start of an agenda item. Many residents said that these changes would limit free speech. The Council unanimously decided not to adopt those changes.

*Eric Sunada is a member of the Alhambra Source Advisory Board. Advisory board members have no input on editorial direction or the content of stories before publication.

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