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City to reimburse OWN for summer newsletter cost, but that's all

       The Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) will be reimbursed for the $1,760 cost of its summer newsletter last July.
       OWN President Welling Clark received this promise in a recent letter from Aimee Cox, who heads the Housing Division and Community Initiatives under the Mayor's Office.
       The matter had come up at a Sept. 15 meeting of neighborhood representatives that Cox attended. Explaining that the newsletter bills had been paid from OWN cash reserves based on a written city funding pledge, Clark told Cox that he would propose that the OWN board file a lawsuit against Mayor Steve Bach if reimbursement did not occur.
       At that time, Cox had said she would try to to come up with the $1,760 but could make no promises.
Welling Clark speaks at the Westside Neighbors Picnic last July. The annual event is part of the outreach by of the Organization of Westside Neighbors. Clark has been its president since 2007.
Westside Pioneer photo
       The missing money is part of a larger issue, related to Bach changing how he wants to spend federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allotments earmarked for community development. The new plan - including the end of the 36-year-old Westside Neighborhood Strategy Area (NSA) for which OWN has been a city-aided residential advocacy group - was to take effect in the 2015 fiscal year (April 1-March 31). However, an audit revealed HUD-related financial problems at the city level, which led the Mayor's Office to end stipends to all NSA-representing neighborhood groups in the city for the current fiscal year.
       Clark said the $1,760 reimbursement, assuming it's received, will mean that he won't push for a lawsuit. However, he pointed out that the amount is only part of the city's contract to give OWN a total of $7,000 for the current fiscal year, and it was on that basis that the volunteer group had been operating since April. The group was planning its second newsletter of the year when the city broke the news in September.
       Of the overall situation, Clark said, “Am I pleased that the city went back on its commitment? No. They broke their word with regard to the $7,000, and we expended funds on their commitment.”
       He also expressed a wish to talk directly to HUD officials about the financial problems. So far, he noted, all communications about HUD have been through the Mayor's Office, and he would like the chance to ask questions of his own.
       One question would relate to the fact, as stated by Cox at the Sept. 15 meeting, that the city itself initiated the audit two years ago. This is of interest to OWN because the audit resulted in findings that caused HUD to declare its rules weren't being followed, which in turn led to the stoppage in NSA funding this fiscal year.
       Clark added that OWN will continue its outreach efforts for the Westside in any case. The OWN board is brainstorming this month on how that can be done. Its target area is mainly the older Westside, consisting of about 8,000 households, many of them low-income or lower-middle income. One thing is certain: “OWN is not about to beg for city funds, in any shape or form,” Clark said.
       In contrast to the suddenness of the Westside NSA termination, when the city decided to bring an end to the Mesa Springs NSA (north of Uintah Street and west of I-25) in 2007, it allowed a three-year transition before completely pulling out in 2010.
       The letter from Cox, dated Sept. 25, thanks OWN for helping “make the Westside a great place to live” and reiterates that “this change in funding does not change our commitment to neighborhoods. We will continue to seek input from neighborhoods when we set priorities for the annual action plan and to make investments in neighborhoods to improve the safety and vitality of our community.”
       The $7,000 is part of $2.5 million in what's called Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds that HUD allocates to the city each year. The intent is to help less affluent neighborhoods and people.
       In the 2015 fiscal year, under the mayor's new plan, $500,000 of the CDBG total (which used to include capital improvements for NSAs) will be awarded on a competitive basis to public agencies or nonprofit organizations, according to guidelines stated on the city's Housing Development Division website.
       Applications for such grants are being accepted through Oct. 31, the website states.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 10/2/14; Community: Neighborhoods)

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