Thursday October 18, 2012 | By:Felice E. Krycia-associate editor | News
A new house in the Town of Hamburg built with the assistance of Community Development Block Grant funds.
Since its inception in 1974, the federal Community Development Block grant program has helped the Town of Hamburg fund and complete many large and small projects in the community.
Originally administered by Erie County, the town received $2.7 million from 1975 to 1984. The town then created its own Community Development Department in 1985 and since then, they have applied for and administrated $12.6 million in federal funds for the town and its two villages.
First hired by the town in 1988, Christopher Hull, who has been the department director since 1993, has been responsible for creating many of the programs used today in the town.
“The town receives federal CDBG funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on an entitlement basis,” Hull said. “The formula is based on population, housing stock and income factors.”
Of the money received since 1985, approximately $3.8 million has gone to the Town of Hamburg, approximately $3.5 million to the Village of Hamburg and approximately $3.4 million to the Village of Blasdell. The remaining approximate $1.9 million or 15.1 percent of the total, has been used for administration/planning.
“By law we are able to use up to 20 percent of the funding for administration, but we work really hard to be below that and to keep more money to help our residents,” he said.
The Community Development office is located in the white building at 6100 South Park Ave., sharing space with the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. The department consists of Hull, Assistant Director Timothy Regan and Community Development Aide Jennifer Reinagel. Hamburg Councilman Joseph Collins, the town’s liaison, keeps the board abreast of their work.
This team reaches out to those residents who are in the low to moderate income levels, including seniors, single parent families and the handicapped, as well as handling programs for the Town of Hamburg and the villages of Blasdell and Hamburg and assisting area businesses.
“People really do not know what we do,” Hull said. “We do a lot more than just hold Community Development Block Grant hearings at board meetings. People are always amazed when they find out we administered so many of the town’s housing programs and helped establish some of the town’s quality of life programs.”
One of the programs that Hull is proud of is Hamburg’s Senior Day Care Program.
“I did a lot of work with the late John Farrell, who was director of Hamburg’s Senior Services. We saw a need for a Senior Day Care Center and we set to work on it,” he said.
According to Hull, through the CDBG money was found to renovate the former train station on Pleasant Avenue, in the village.
“Within a few years they were on their way to being fully self-sufficient,” Hull said.
Proposed Senior Technology Center as work continues to complete the Community Development Block Grant project. Thirty computers will be installed in the lab for use by area seniors.
A project Hull is currently working on is the creation of a Senior Technology Center in the Elm Apartment, 4122 Sowles Road, next to the Hamburg Senior Fitness Center and Iris Housing complex.
“This is something that was near to Farrell’s heart too,” Hull said. “The center will house at least 30 computers that the senior’s can use along with printers. We will also have a special class room where we will conduct computer classes, which will have another eight computers.”
Hull said he’d like to see the project completed in the next few months.
CDBG funds have also been used to build the senior fitness center’s therapeutic pool and expand the exercise/workout room.
There are many other projects Hull and the department have been involved with, such as the town’s Domestic Violence office and program (CDBG funds paid for the staffing for many years); the housing rehabilitation loan program; housing and fair housing counseling; mobile home loan program; hometown housing program for existing homes or new builds for first time home buyers.
“Since September 1988, we have helped with over 300 homes in the first time home buyer program, and have issued $10,000 conditional grants for income qualified individuals and families,” he said. “We have also been involved in affordable housing subdivision developments, like Princeton Square and Caitlin Terrace.”
For Hamburg residents who are facing fair housing issues or prejudices based on income or color, Hull said Hamburg has its own Fair Housing Law, working in conjunction with Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Inc., which protects prospective homeowners, landlords and tenants from those types of discrimination and prejudices.
“People have the right to live where they want,” he said. “It is ridiculous that we still even have these issues.”
Some of the projects that Hull and his staff have been involved in are not as obvious, like updating sewer lines and water lines in the villages.
“They don’t rip up the pipes all the time now,” he said. “Now they put in these liners inside the old pipes and now you have a new system at a margin of the cost.”
Another project was the building of the rest room facility for the Glen Meadows Park.
“The building was built off site, trucked in and set up with very little fan fare,” Hull said. “Another project we paid for is the wading pool for the Village of Hamburg and updating the Blasdell Library, now the community center.
“We work hard to make these communities the best they can be, for everyone, no matter what their income level. It is really important that everyone be given an opportunity, that’s why we are here.”
One of the other programs the department is involved in, though not funded by the CDBG is the Hamburg Economic Area Revitalizaton Taskforce, which was created in 1985.
“HEART was put together to help the village businesses promote themselves,” Hull said. “We also created and administered the Commercial Facade Loan Program, which helped pay for many of the improved store fronts we now see in the villages.”
The loans, which had an interest rate of 5 percent, could be used to help with exterior facade improvements and/or enhancements, interior improvements and property improvements (landscaping, sidewalks/parking lots and street furniture).
The first targeted area or assistance zone was the Main and Buffalo streets business corridor in the Village of Hamburg.
In 1987 money was set up and HEART received two member initiative grants from New York State Senator William Stachowski’s office of over $50,000 to begin the Commercial Facade Loan Program.
Since its inception, HEART has set up over 130 revolving loans and is still actively completing about three loans a year, Hull said.
“When I drive down Main and Buffalo streets, I feel we have had a part in the rejuvenation of the village,” Hull said. He added that business in the Village of Blasdell have also taken advantage of the program.
Along with helping local businesses, the department oversees many programs within the town that helps individual residents
Four public hearings on the use of federal Community Development Block Grand and HOME Investment Partnership Program funds for 2013 will be held in Conference Room No. 2 in the Hamburg Town Hall on the following dates: Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 6 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 17 at 11 a.m.; Saturday, Dec. 8 at noon and Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend and to speak up on possible project ideas.
For more information on the Hamburg Community Development Department visit the town’s website at http://www.townofhamburgny.com or call 648-6216.