City stops funding OWN; volunteer group vows to continue

       As part of a new city strategy that has community-wide implications, the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) is no longer designated for funding by the City of Colorado Springs.
       This was confirmed at a September meeting by Aimee Cox, manager of community initiatives for the Mayor's Office.

During a Council of Neighbors and Organizations (CONO) meeting in September, Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) President Welling Clark (right) and CONO President Dave Munger listen to Aimee Cox, manager of community initiatives for the Mayor's Office. She was explaining the city's change in funding strategies.
Westside Pioneer photo

       However, OWN President Welling Clark said the long-time volunter group will continue its neighborhood outreach to the older Westside. The OWN board has been meeting this fall to figure out ways to move forward.
       An especially noticeable result of the city decision is the end of the OWN newsletter, the Westside Story. Providing community-oriented information, the four-page paper had been direct-mailed to about 8,000 households. This had once been on a quarterly basis; however, a city stipend cut in 2012 reduced the frequency to three times a year.
       The Westside Pio0neer has offered to run a guest column by OWN, going forward. The first “Our OWN column” is in this edition, on Page 6.
       The city decision was not completely unexpected for OWN going into the 2015 fiscal year (because of prior communications with Cox), but Clark was displeased that most of the city's previously promised 2014 money ($7,000) was pulled back as well.
       Believing that the funds were simply delayed, OWN had drawn from its cash reserves to cover the costs of a summer Westside Story as well as its annual Westside Neighbors Picnic in July.
       Cox has since told Clark that the city is reimbursing OWN $1,760 for the newsletter cost.
       Formed by the city in 1978 as a volunteer nonprofit providing neighborhood outreach for what was then viewed as a rundown area, OWN has contracted with the city for activies (such as the newsletter and picnic) to build community among Westside residents. OWN has also traditionally analyzed land-use proposals, tracked local government and school actions, advocated for residential issues and partnered with like-minded groups. One such entity currently is the Avenue Task Force - a volunteer entity that is working with city, county and Manitou law enforcement to solve crime issues along the Colorado Avenue corridor.
       The city's money for OWN had come from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which has a fiscal year of April 1 to March 31.
       Cox defended the city by explaining that its decision had been forced by HUD, and that the news did not come in until the end of August. What HUD told Colorado Springs, she said, is that the neighborhood groups have been getting their money from an ineligible “cap” (category) within the Community Develop- ment Block Grant (CDBG) funds that the federal agency allocates to the city. “Unfortunately,” she elaborated, the cap that could have funded it this year has no available money.
       OWN's monetary plight is connected to a new city policy, in which much of its CDBG funding will no longer be tied to its five Neighborhood Strategy Areas (NSAs). The biggest (and oldest) of these is the Westside NSA, represented by OWN. If not for the HUD ineligible-cap decision, the amount of such funds divvied out to those groups this year (including the $7,000 to OWN) would have totalled $13,650, Cox said.
       The NSA elimination will also affect a different, larger CDBG fund, starting in the 2015 fiscal year. According to Cox, half a million dollars will be in play in two categories: public facilities ($225,000) and services ($275,000). Disbursed in past years by the city through the NSAs - for example, on the Westside for new or upgraded sidewalks, curbs and gutters - this money will be open now to competition among any interested nonprofit entities in the city that have done the necessary government-required paperwork.
       A mayor-appointed board will review the applications, then put together an allocation package that the Mayor's Office will present to City Council for approval, Cox said.
       An expected benefit is that the CDBG money can be spent where it will do the most good at a given time. For example, city analyses have used seven criteria (including safety, economic vitality, housing stock and quality of life) to see where the greatest needs are, and the southeast part of the city has been particularly found wanting, she outlined.
       The older Westside also could still qualify, with aging housing stock being its greatest need. But competition will likely be fierce, Cox said, in part because major nonprofits in the city will also be eyeing the funds. For example, starting in 2015, under the categories of public services/public facilities, groups seeking ways to help the homeless could apply, Cox said.
       In that regard, the mayor has announced an initiative to end homelessness in Colorado Springs, and Cox said that will be a priority going forward.
       In a letter to OWN, Cox emphasized that despite the change in funding, the city still believes in “the importance of neighborhoods.”

Westside Pioneer article