South Bend officials discussed affordable housing at their most recent budget meeting Friday, including $6 million dollars in American Rescue Plan proposals.
The city proposed dedicating $2.5 million dollars in ARP funds to home repair assistance, another $2.5 million to housing financing and the remaining $1 million to home buying assistance.
According to the city’s presentation, housing financing and home buying assistance haven’t previously been funded in the city budget.
Community Investment Director Santiago Garces said the $3.5 million would fund programs to help cover closing costs and down payments in areas that have been historically redlined. He said the city hopes to leverage partnerships and revolving funds to extend those programs beyond the ARP funding deadline in 2024.
But some council members wanted more specific details on the new programs before committing federal COVID relief dollars.
“I understand it’s hard to cost out the exact way you want to run a program before you even try to implement it,” Councilman Eli Wax said. “At the same time, to have $3.5 million towards purchasing homes and financing without a more concrete idea of how to do it makes me nervous.”
The other $2.5 million would go to the city’s existing home repair assistance program. Garces said the city has heard complaints from both community and council members about the application process and – especially – follow-up inspections.
“We know that we’re not perfect and we’re open to understanding what are the things that are problematic,” he said. “And in some sense, what we propose in the budget is trying to react to the things that we know that have been issues.”
Of the city’s 97 active repair applications, Garces said 44 have have been completed, 40 are awaiting inspection and 13 have work contracted to begin. He said the ARP funding would allow the city to hire more inspectors and program personnel to respond to applicants quickly.
Councilwoman Lori Hamann wanted more assurance that the funds would be distributed equitably before approving federal funding.
“All we hear, council meeting after council meeting, is that these funds are not spent in an equitable way,” she said. “What kind of guarantee are we going to get from the city that this additional $6 million is going to land where it needs to land?”
Garces said the city will take geography and underserved neighborhoods into account with all housing programs, but specific considerations will require in-depth conversations with the council and community before being implemented.
“Designing new programs and being able to execute takes a lot of effort, and obviously what we present in the budget is an outline,” he said. “Some of those details we’ll have to figure out.”
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