An annual public hearing about millions of dollars in federal aid took an unusual twist Monday when the proposed recipients stepped up to ask that money also go to someone else.
While none of them asked that their proposed grant be cut, they made a strong case for the Community Loan Fund.
The agency had applied for $20,000 to open a part-time satellite office in Schenectady. The proposed Community Development Block Grant and Consolidated Plan budget did not include any money for the agency.
The only missing voice on the issue was from the Community Loan Fund itself. No one from the organization came to speak.
But directors and managers of several different nonprofits made the case for the agency.
They said the $20,000 request would lead the agency to spend $400,000 in loans to small businesses, nonprofits, residential mortgages and home repairs.
The agency would also provide technical assistance to at least 50 entrepreneurs seeking information on how to start a business, they said.
Metroplex Development Authority has offered the agency rent-free office space.
The Chamber of Schenectady County even offered to put up some of the $20,000 if the City Council would pay the rest through the CDBG budget.
“If necessary, the Chamber will partner with the city to provide the funds,” Chamber President Charles Steiner said.
Even some residents stood up to speak for the agency, impressed by what they’d heard.
“Small business is the vehicle for job creation,” said resident Linda Kelleher.
Resident Roy Neville added that he had offered funds for the agency to lend out years ago.
“Very reliable. They key in when businesses need money for specific projects,” he said. “And they make it work. You get your money back. That’s a good program to invest into, and I can attest to that.”
The Rev. Phillip Grigsby, executive director of Schenectady Inner City Ministry, added that the city was not asked to contribute much.
“It seems a very modest investment for a very large payout,” he said.
Others said the business loans would not only support new businesses, but also create jobs.
After the hearing, Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said she would find a way to get $20,000 to the agency.
“I think it would be a wonderful asset,” she said, noting that residents still go to the former Business Center, which is closed.
“That would be the help they need,” she said of the Community Loan Fund.
She’s not sure which agencies will lose part of their proposed grant to make room for the new agency, though.
“We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board,” she said. “It’s going to be a tough balancing act.”
But, she said, the city could not afford to pass up this opportunity.
“Twenty thousand dollars is a small amount of money to leverage $400,000,” she said.
In other business, the council approved the amendments to the apartment inspection program by a vote of 5-1. Councilman Vince Riggi voted no because he wanted a lower fee for inspections.
The fee is $50 per unit. Riggi wanted that reduced, even if it was just a symbolic cut.
“If there was just a slight movement, I’d feel a lot better about it,” he said.
Several landlords from the Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change group had asked for a lower fee to make the inspections more palatable to the majority of landlords, who have flouted the law for years.
They said it would be difficult to persuade other landlords to cooperate without a lower fee.
But Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said she would now start working on a special program for “reputable landlords.”
She wants a way for them to be recognized for having violation-free apartments, and she said they should get more leeway in the inspection program.
Legislation on a Housing Standards board is nearly done as well, she said.
Members of SLIC had asked for that board to be reinstated as a place for landlords to appeal code violations and inspection failures that they felt were unreasonable. Some landlords say their apartments failed inspections for issues that had nothing to do with health and safety — like a lack of closet doors.
Despite those promises, landlords said they were not satisfied with the amended law and were not convinced that Perazzo’s proposals would actually happen.