Proposal to apply for housing grant fails to get enough votes to pass

(Flyer photo/File)

FAYETTEVILLE — A proposal to apply for an affordable housing grant was one vote shy of passing the City Council on Tuesday.

The council voted 4-3 to support the measure, but five affirmative votes were needed to pass the resolution. The council is one member short after Sonia Harvey resigned earlier this year, and Mayor Lioneld Jordan declined to vote.

The resolution concerned the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Pathways to Removing Obstacles to Housing grant program. It’s designed to help communities remove barriers to affordable housing such as those caused by outdated zoning districts, land use policies or regulations. Grant winners can use the money to further develop, evaluate and implement housing policy plans, improve housing strategies and facilitate affordable housing production and preservation.

Councilmember Sarah Moore first attempted to walk the resolution onto the agenda at the previous council meeting, but that idea was also one vote shy of passing. Moore had it formally added to this week’s meeting as part of the standard agenda process.

If approved, the resolution would’ve authorized Jordan to apply for up to $4 million in funding.

Moore said if approved, the city would have a very tight timeline to put together a grant application. The deadline to apply is Oct. 30, but a 15-day required public comment period would mean the grant would need to be written in just a few weeks.

Moore proposed using the money to hire several new city staff members for periods of between 2-5 years each. She presented a list of possible directives the new staffers could take on once hired.

Jonathan Curth, the city’s development services director, said while the HUD program presents a lot of opportunity for communities, it also comes with many strict requirements and some hurdles the city may not be able to overcome. He said the biggest concern is that the proposal has no clear project definition, meaning staff would have to first become well educated on the program before coming up with a specific plan on how the money would be used within the grant guidelines. He also said it’s possible the city either wouldn’t qualify or would be at a significant disadvantage when competing with other municipalities.

Those concerns, Curth said, combined with the short timeline are why the city doesn’t recommend entering the grant application process.

During public comment, nearly 20 spoke in favor of the resolution, many who spoke about how difficult it is to find affordable housing. Most people said the city should at least try to win the grant, and some offered to volunteer their time to help.

Councilmember D’Andre Jones said the city shouldn’t shy from the process just because it could be difficult. The housing crisis is real, he said, and more political will is needed to address the issue. He also offered to volunteer time toward the grant-writing process and said he knew others who might could help.

Before the vote, Mike Wiederkehr said he likes the program and was leaning toward supporting the grant application. As for residents helping with the proposal, he said as much as everyone wants to volunteer, city staff are the ones who will have to put in the work.

Councilmember Sarah Bunch said it’s a big concern that a clear definition doesn’t exist for the proposal, but admitted she was on the fence about the idea because she wants to believe that the city should at least give it a shot.

Scott Berna said on the surface the resolution looked like a no-brainer because the city clearly has a housing crisis. He said the grant program itself seems like a great idea, but after listening to the concerns of staff, he thinks there’s too much working against the city to shift people to this project without a clearly defined plan.

Councilmember Teresa Turk said she also knows there’s a housing crisis, but she’s not sure it’s wise to pull city staff away from their other duties to quickly put together a plan that would need to be very carefully vetted before it’s submitted, especially knowing there’s a chance the city could be at a disadvantage from the onset.

“I just can’t support this in good conscience,” said Turk.

Mayor Jordan said he thinks it’s a good program, but he doesn’t have the staff to take on the proposal. He said the housing crisis is a longterm problem that should be addressed by clearly defined objectives, and not by diverting staff to a last-minute proposal.

Moore, Jones, Bunch and Wiederkehr voted in support, while Berna, Turk and Holly Hertzberg voted against.

» See our full City Council recap from the Sept. 19 meeting