Hartford struggles to support its community groups
September 25, 2008
The director of one of Hartford's longest-running community organizations — the Blue Hills Civic Association, founded in 1962 — was trying to understand last week why his programs to help homeowners in the North End stay in their homes, and young people stay off the streets, received no funding from the city.
Lee Hunt points out the home ownership rate in the Blue Hills neighborhood is 65 percent, among the highest rates in the city.
"One of the things this organization has done is stabilize that home ownership rate better than most of the city, trying to attract homebuyers to this neighborhood, helping neighbors understand their role as homeowners," said Hunt. "Why wouldn't a city with the issues we have around taxes support that?"
In April, Blue Hills Civic Association was denied a $20,000 Community Development Block Grant — funded through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development — and in August, Hunt's request for $20,000 from Youth Services, a city agency, to expand a successful summer youth program into a year-round program was also denied.
"On one hand the city is saying, 'Help, we have violence going on, we need things for kids to do,' but then where's the support?" said Hunt.
As part of the Block Grant process, the mayor's office assigned scores, based on a scale of 1 to 100, to more than 70 nonprofit organizations in the city. Blue Hills Civic Association scored 74 — higher, says Hunt, than other organizations that were funded. The Christian Activities Council, which scored 70, received $10,000 to provide home ownership counseling in the Upper Albany, Clay Hill and Northeast neighborhoods. One of the knocks against Blue Hills, says Hunt, was that they were doing the same counseling his friends at Christian Activities were doing.
"We've been around for 46 years, I don't know how we can duplicate anybody," said Hunt. "It's ludicrous. I guess they felt like one group in North Hartford getting money for housing is enough."
But Sarah Barr, director of communications for Mayor Eddie Perez explained there were 47 applications for CDBG grants totalling $1.7 million this year, and that $778,000 was awarded to 33 groups following a competitive process dictated by HUD regulations. Barr added that Blue Hills Civic Association received $120,000 in funding from the city from fiscal year 1997-1998 through fiscal year 2007-2008.
City Councilman Matt Ritter is leading an effort currently before the council to give Blue Hills $10,000 for this fiscal year. Ritter said the money was freed up when the state stepped in with funds to keep two library branches open that were threatening to close.
"I was very surprised in March when Blue Hills received a higher score on work they do as housing advocates and was shut out of (the Community Development Block Grants)," said Ritter.
Ritter says the city is often too reactionary in its response to local nonprofits, trying to put out fires rather than taking a more "holistic" approach.
"What the city should do over the next five years is bite the bullet and put $500,000 in a reserve fund to invest in safe portfolios and use that money to help our neighborhood groups," said Ritter.