City staff this week outlined $14 million in potential programs eligible for American Rescue Act funding that they said could advance the city’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan goals.
That would amount to almost one third of the city’s total $43.2 million in ARPA funding.
Staff said affordable housing, budgeted at $4 million; water and sewer infrastructure improvements, budgeted at $6 million, and inclusive and equitable recovery projects, budgeted at $4 million, could all help meet the climate goals.
But Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), who campaigned on his record as an environment activist, continued to press at Monday night’s City Council meeting to create a separate funding category, or “bucket,” for CARP projects.
Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said he also favored creating a separate category of at least $1.5 million for CARP goals.
Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said she’d be glad to support that — but asked, “Where are we going to pull the money from to create it?”
Nieuwsma then responded that CARP should be a goal in all the ARPA funding buckets.
Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski suggest that staff could come back with a proposal next month that would identify one of the proposed projects — perhaps the housing energy retrofit program — as being a specific CARP project.
Sarah Flax, the city’s housing and grants manager, said many of the potentially CARP-related projects had the potential to qualify for additional funds under other federal and state programs and that careful coordination would be needed to help the city receive the maximum benefit from the various funding sources.
For example, she said, ARPA funds could be used to leverage funding from the Illinois Housing Development Agency under which developers can qualify for federal low income housing tax credits that are said to fund about 90% of all new affordable housing developments across the country.
A housing energy retrofit program, she said, could also tap federal Community Development Block Grant and CEDA funds. “We can do way more if we can layer funding than if it’s only ARPA,” Flax said.
Other potential programs in the affordable housing category include providing assistance to small landlords and creating a permanent 24/7 homeless shelter.
Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said the information Flax provided about other funding sources and the coordination they would require helped explain “why we need to wait” before making detailed commitments on how to spend the ARPA funds.
The Council has already approved spending $3 million from ARPA funds to move forward with water system capital improvements and has yet to approve another $3 million for water and sewer projects.
The $4 million in proposed ARPA spending labeled as being focused on “inclusive and equitable recovery” takes advantage of provisions in the federal statute that favor programs targeted to low income neighborhoods.
City staff believe the census tracts 8092 in the 5th Ward and 8102 in the 8th Ward can meet those criteria.
Improvements to business districts in those areas, and the potential development of the Family Focus building in the 5th Ward as a social services hub are two of the potential projects in that bucket — along with targeted versions of three programs listed in the affordable housing category — affordable housing construction, home energy retrofit projects and assistance to small landlords.