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Cleveland City Council president unveils $53 million spending plan for federal ARPA aid

by Jun 28, 2022business, Local News

Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin Monday unveiled his plans for spending $53 million – or about one-tenth — of federal aid provided to the city through the federal American Recovery Plan Act.

Griffin’s proposal includes a potential $35 million for home repairs and other housing assistance, plus money for other programs related to crime prevention and response, reducing infant mortality, arts and culture, and workforce development.

The public unveiling came during a Monday caucus meeting, and was somewhat of a surprise, as the agenda made no mention that members would be discussing potential plans for a substantial portion of the city’s ARPA aid. Council members received advance notice of the spending plans and the council president had been working on them for two months with council staff, who have been collecting and vetting spending ideas since last year, Griffin said.

Griffin said he hopes to “at least” introduce legislation reflecting the plan at council’s scheduled July 13 meeting — leaving open the possibility that some or all of the plan could also be approved that day.

But Griffin said that timeline is also dependent on looming negotiations between council and Mayor Justin Bibb. Having received no “overwhelming cavalcade” of objections from other council members on Monday, Griffin took that as a green light to begin such negotiations.

“We’ll immediately start to engage [the mayor’s office] and reconcile what the administration has in mind and what we have in mind,” Griffin said.

Bibb’s chief strategy officer, Bradford Davy, is guiding the mayor’s own evaluation process for ARPA money, which entails what administrators have called objective criteria to determine which projects or programs the city ought to fund with the money.

Davy told council members on Monday that Griffin’s proposal left him with “a few questions”, including how the city could impartially evaluate individual the spending ideas, how to ensure the plans are carried out effectively and “have real teeth,” and whether or not other money is available to support specific projects so Cleveland doesn’t spend “too much of a scarce resource.”

Davy also said the city ought to fully investigate and evaluate who or which organizations would ultimately receive the money.

The questions raised by Davy on Monday are generally the kinds of questions that Bibb said he hoped to address through his ARPA evaluation process. Davy later told cleveland.com that Bibb had intended to start rolling out his ARPA proposals this fall.

Council, meanwhile, has said its been working to figure out its own spending priorities for the money. Among other considerations, Griffin said he arrived at the list unveiled Monday through discussions with council members about their priorities for the funding. Other values that guided his decision-making process included:

-Supporting and stabilizing services the city already provides, and city infrastructure

-Serving populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19

-Avoiding new personnel costs, because the city would be saddled with those salaries after the ARPA money runs out

-Delegating money to organizations who already receive city money, or work with city departments (Griffin said he favored organizations that are “already working with us” as opposed to random agencies.)

-Giving money to ward-specific projects. Griffin said he aimed to allocate money to programs that would help the entire city, rather than individual neighborhoods (Though Griffin also indicated ward-specific projects would likely be considered for other ARPA funding in the future.)

Griffin’s list is largely focused on programs related to housing, community development and social services – areas that received only a small portion in ARPA money approved last year, under the former mayor and City Council.

The city has $512 million total in federal funds, split into two halves. One batch, about $255 million, landed in Cleveland coffers last year.

The money Griffin now proposes spending comprises the final chunk of last year’s money – that is, the portion leftover after the prior council allocated just over $200 million to make up for revenue lost to the pandemic, public safety, broadband access, and some economic development projects.

The second half of Cleveland’s aid was scheduled for deposit this month. No decisions have been made and no proposals have been put forth for the vast majority of money from this year’s batch.

Council members on Monday raised various concerns over Griffin’s proposal, including Kerry McCormack, who bucked at the idea of awarding money to pre-determined organizations. McCormack said he preferred the city issue requests for proposals to determine the best recipients of the funds, rather than giving money directly to groups based on existing relationships with the city.

Councilman Mike Polensek, and others, wanted to know how the city could use the housing-related spending to pressure banks to improve lending practices (or do other things) to better the city’s housing stock and give Clevelanders more opportunities to own homes.

Councilman Kris Harsh questioned whether council should adopt the plan as a standalone proposal, without first considering council’s priorities and potential plans for the second half of ARPA aid.

Councilwoman Stephanie Howse was one member who wanted more details about the individual spending plans, such as how many people they might impact, or where they live.

Griffin said some of those details were already available, and other details would emerge during negotiations with Bibb, or when specific programs were agreed upon.

Howse also called on the city to get innovative with its ARPA spending. For example, she wondered if the city could figure out a way to put hundreds of millions of dollars into a home renovation fund; could it partner with banks and innovative small-home manufactures to increase the supply of affordable homes; could it provide year-round schooling to make up for progress kids lost during the pandemic?

The proposal unveiled Monday will likely undergo some changes before council votes on it. And some of the plans listed below would likely need to be axed, as their collective price tag exceeds by millions the $53 million batch of money Griffin is eyeing for this round of plans. Also, some of the proposals included on Griffin’s list include no dollar figure, only that their potential funding level is “to be determined.”

Here is the list, and how much money would go toward each idea:

-Modernizing City Hall: $2 million

-Birthing Beautiful Communities (to reduce infant mortality levels): $2 million

-Violence Interruption: $1 million

-University Hospitals Antifragility Initiative (a violence intervention program for youth who are victims of violence): $1 million

-Cleveland Rape Crisis Center & Journey Center for Safety and Healing (to support victims of

domestic violence and child abuse): $2.5 million

-Canopy Child Advocacy Center (to support victims of child abuse): $500,000

-ADAMHS Board (to support those experiencing mental health

crises, addiction, and trauma): To be determined

-Pre4CLE (to explore the implementation of universal pre-kindergarten): $3 million

-Home repair programs: $15 million

-Gap financing for new-construction homes: $10 million

-Right to Counsel tenant protections: $1 million

-United Way (to support 211 services): $500,000

-Rental assistance: $5 million

-Habitat for Humanity (to support its home repair program): $5 million

-Park and greenspace investments: To be determined

-Security Cameras: To be determined

-Wealth Creation Workforce programming: $3 million

-Arts and culture: $5 million

-Middle Neighborhoods strategy: To be determined

Aside from this list, Griffin also mentioned a $7.5 million request that would go to Cleveland Development Advisors, to help establish a $50 million loan fund for inclusive real estate projects.

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