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Funding for community nonprofits to receive final approval in Schenectady

Funding for community nonprofits to receive final approval in Schenectady

City Council will vote Wednesday to approve $2.9 million in federal funding
Funding for community nonprofits to receive final approval in Schenectady
The Mont Pleasant Library under construction in December.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

SCHENECTADY — The City Council will vote Wednesday on how to allocate $2.9 million in federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding.

Funds, which are allocated annually, have been flagged by the city's Development Office for community projects and non-profits serving lower-income neighborhoods, joining economic development and public works projects. 

The council’s Government Operation Committee approved the spending plan last Monday.

Director of Development Kristin Diotte said the city had slightly less money to work with this year than in the past. 

“It’s always tough because a lot of organizations are doing great work,” Diotte said. “Dealing with a little less funding and navigating that is always difficult.”

While funding for public service projects generally remained flat, homeless shelter Bethesda House saw a sharp decrease in projected funding for “tenant-based rental assistance and security deposits” serving homeless city residents or those at “imminent risk” of losing their homes.

The Planning Department reduced allocations by about 44 percent, from $75,000 to $42,000.

At the same time, Better Neighborhoods, Inc. and Community Land Trust of Schenectady jointly received $200,000 to assist 10 income-eligible homeowners with rehabilitation services, particularly code violations — $75,000 more than requested.

“Given the projected merger between BNI and Community Land Trust, we really wanted to support some of the projects they were putting forward because we really think that that’s going to have a high impact,” Diotte said.

Lawmakers on the Government Operations Committee asked if some of that funding could be shifted over to Bethesda House.

Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said even a small amount of funds could mean the difference for someone at the brink of homelessness. 

“Cutting a program by $33,000 can be very significant,” said Perazzo after the meeting.

Diotte told lawmakers the shelter “was having a problem with one of the programs they were administering.”

Afterwards, she said she was working with the facility to better structure their programming so funding “aligns” with the federal funding criteria. 

While funding for Bethesda House’s two additional programs were kept flat, it’s unclear what the loss of funds would mean for the State Street shelter, which did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Mayor Gary McCarthy warned council members against funding a program that may not meet HUD's criteria.

“If you put the money back there and they continue to serve a population that doesn’t meet the criteria or objectives are not the same, you may have to make that up with local funds,” he said. 

A public hearing on the proposed funding was held on April 13, but the shelter did not deliver comments.

Earlier this year, HUD approved a new designation giving the city greater flexibility on how they can use federal funding for community initiatives in distressed neighborhoods. 

The new Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA) designation lifts a cap that previously limited funding expenditures for public service projects, including fair housing initiatives. 

Three neighborhoods stand to benefit from the change: Eastern Avenue, Hamilton Hill and Vale. Diotte said the funded projects will focus on the rehabilitation of vacant lots and continued demolition of derelict properties.

“We are really going to try to align our community work with housing partners to meet those [NRSA] goals,” she said.

One new line item this year is $33,500 to support workforce development programs at the Electric City Barn.

Funds will be used to pair artisan makers with workforce development programs to train workers in creative trades.

A request for a full-time staffer to help patrons at Mont Pleasant Library navigate low-to-moderate income resources was partially funded, while the Working Group on Girls was allocated $10,000 for programming designed to develop bonding between mothers and daughters.

The Schenectady Foundation was awarded $100,000 for the second round of Thriving Neighborhoods Challenge, the initiative designed to spur grassroots community projects in the city’s neighborhoods. 

The full council is expected to vote on full funding package on Wednesday.

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