Only a handful of people showed up to make requests as Evanston aldermen started the annual process of playing Santa Claus with Uncle Sam’s money this week.

Parents from Washington School said at the Tuesday meeting that they’d like money to plant trees around the school playground. Aldermen suggested that with help of a discount the city gets for tree purchases, that might be accomplished for about $10,000.

John Mroczka from the McGaw YMCA said his organization would like $25,000 or so to install automatic doors at the front entrance to the Y’s building at 1000 Grove St. to improve access for handicapped patrons.

Margarita Matlis from the Hispanic community group OLE said she’d like to see the city spend more on activities to help integrate immigrants into the community and encourage young Hispanics to pursue higher education.

The city receives over $2.6 million each year from three federal programs, including Community Development Block Grants, that it can spend on housing and other efforts targeted to low and moderate income residents.

Sue Carlson of the Citizens Lighthouse Community Land Trust, which has received funding from program in the past, criticized what she said was excessive use of the money to pay city staff administrative expenses.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said most of the money spent on city staff funds housing inspection programs targeted to multi-unit buildings in lower income neighborhoods, which she said is permitted under the law.

The inspection program, Rainey said, is “absolutely critical. That’s what keeps the decent affordable housing decent. If we didn’t have it we would have hundreds of people in here screaming at us.”

The Housing and Community Development Act Committee meets next at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 17.

Community groups can start the formal application process for grants in June, and the committee is scheduled to start hearings on the requests in September.

More information is available on the city website or from CDBG Grants Administrator Sarah Flax.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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