SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Approximately eight months ago, officials were caught off guard to learn the town was among the 33 communities around the state that would not receive funding typically provided through the Community Development Block Grant program to support social services organizations.
On Monday, the Town Council approved the filing for a $670,000 application to fund six projects for such agencies.
“I think this application has been long awaited,” Chelsea Seifert, the town’s planning director, said of the vote.
As part of the application to the Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development, which manages funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for “non-entitlement communities” such as South Kingstown, the town is required to rank the proposed projects by priority.
Atop the list is a $40,000 request for the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale. Seifert said the funding would help purchase food for low- and moderate-income households, support member services staff and provide emergency financial assistance for households facing eviction, utility shutoffs or other financial troubles.
“We had to ramp up the number of folks we have working in our office who work directly with people coming through the door significantly over the last few years,” said Kate Brewster, the center’s executive director. “We know by surveying our own members, the majority, over 90 percent, don’t have anybody else in the community helping them navigate social security agencies, health care systems, so we’ve really taken that on as an important role in our agency.”
Of the emergency financial assistance component of the request, she added, “Just a few hundred dollars can really prevent a disaster for many of these households.”
The second and third items on the list seek a total of $100,000 for the Welcome House of South County. Of that sum, $60,000 would provide for a community care coordinator, while the remainder would be used to renovate unused space at Welcome House’s emergency shelter and repair its administrative building.
The fourth item on the list seeks $360,000 to fund the construction of a new, freestanding laundry facility for the South Kingstown Housing Authority. It would replace in-unit laundry machines that are being removed for health reasons, Seifert said.
“For what it’s worth, we would strongly support the laundry facility at Champagne Heights,” Brewster said. “Just today, I gave a family $50 to go to one of the laundry facilities in town. And it gets very costly for some of the larger families. And I know that’s been a big issue that we see.”
Maureen Egan, a member of the housing authority, said the full block grant request would be needed to fund the laundry facility.
The fifth item on the list seeks $100,000 to fund improvements to the South Kingstown Adult Day Facility, including removing and replacing a shingled roof on the primary structure, replacing a basement bulkhead and rehabilitating the kitchen, along with other significant repairs.
The final item seeks $45,000 for the Education Exchange to provide a job-training program for low- and moderate-income residents in Washington County.
“It’s a little bit hard to tell what the OHCD is thinking in terms of the funding level for this round because they changed the game around on us a little bit,” Seifert said of the state’s process. “We hope that because they limited us to two public service [projects] and three infrastructure [projects], that they will then fund what they have said they would fund in each community. But it’s always hard to know.”
The town is also adding on a $25,000 administrative fee to the applications.
Two other organizations, the Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County and Tri-County Community Action Agency, have historically applied for funds through South Kingstown. Both groups are currently applying for funding through the town of Narragansett as a result of a new state policy that limits the total number of applications a municipality can include in its list based on the type of activity. The arrangement was agreed to at a regional public hearing held in Richmond on March 8.
Last year, the town learned 14 months after staff submitted the application that funding would not be granted for eight proposed projects. None of the 33 non-entitlement communities in the state, which are not big enough to receive funding directly through HUD, received funding from the program.
“Everybody stepped up,” Council President Meg Healy said. “Our state representatives were involved ... That was very disappointing. And I will tell you we didn’t even know about it until the 11th hour ... It’s a shame because these organizations need our help. They need state help, and they help our community ... We’re helping this work out because we’re going to fight for it.”
The state has approximately $4.2 million to fund projects for the 33 non-entitlement communities. According to a memorandum from town staff, OHCD should announce tentative awards July 30.