Routes to CDBG Eligibility: Automatic,
Labor-intensive, Politically Charged

(from Maine Townsman, January 2009, sidebar to Grant Funding article)

There are three ways for a project to be eligible for funding under the Community Development Block Grant program. The bottom line is that a project must meet a “national objective,” which generally means it must benefit low and moderate income people.

• The easiest way to qualify is for the project to be located in a community where more than half the residents in town have incomes of less than 80 percent of the median income. (This is can be determined by consulting the latest U.S. Census data, available through the U.S. Census Website or a regional planning commission or economic development agency.)

• Projects can also qualify if they directly benefit a particular low or moderate income neighborhood. This determination requires real legwork. Establishing income levels in a particular neighborhood means interviewing residents either by telephone, mail or in person and using valid sampling techniques for assembling the data. It can be done by trained volunteers, but is more usually done by paid staff. A further complication: not all projects are eligible. CDBG money, for example, could fund sewer improvements in an LMI neighborhood because the benefit of that project would be limited to LMI residents. On the other hand, CDBG money couldn’t fund park improvements because, since the park is open to all members of the public, the benefit is not limited to LMI residents.

• A third way to qualify is for a project to be located in a specifically delineated area that the legislative body of a community has declared to be suffering from “slum and blight.” This determination is politically charged. Not only do conditions in the delineated area have to meet a threshold of shabbiness, but the stigma associated with the declaration usually creates a backlash in the community that must be addressed.