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Martinsville official: City spreads out grant projects
Sunday, May 12, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Martinsville aims to spread Community Development Block Grant projects to all areas of the city qualifying for aid, according to a city official.
Block grants are federal money provided to localities for projects to improve living and economic conditions for residents with low to moderate incomes, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website shows.
In the past two decades, Martinsville has received about $6 million in block grant funds, Director of Community Development Wayne Knox estimated.
However, “the city does not get annual allocations of block grant money,” Knox said, refuting a comment made by Martinsville-Henry County NAACP President Naomi Hodge-Muse during a recent press conference.
Some metropolitan areas with larger populations, known as “entitlement communities,” receive yearly block grant allocations. But smaller cities such as Martinsville take part in the Small Cities CDBG program in which states get money and then distribute it to cities for projects based on criteria set by state officials, according to Knox and the HUD website.
“We compete for” the money alongside other small cities, Knox said, and although the state is pleased with how Martinsville has handled block grant projects, “we’re not always successful” at getting projects approved — at least not initially.
Hodge-Muse also said the city has used block grant funds “everywhere else but the west end,” a predominantly black neighborhood.
Knox recalled a west end block grant project, amounting to about $1.22 million, in the past decade in which several blocks between Fayette, First, Second, Third and A streets were redeveloped.
That included developing Academy Place at the former R.P. Thomas truck terminal site. The project included the construction of 19 houses, a street extension and street improvements such as curbs and gutters.
City officials currently are looking at Beaver Street between Memorial Boulevard and Fayette Street in the west side for a potential block grant project.
Houses along the hilly street are “in fairly good condition,” Knox said.
Rather, a block grant could be used to improve the street itself, such as by widening and paving it or installing a median, and maybe refurbishing the old Paradise Inn building, he said.
Knox added that officials hope to meet with the street’s residents soon to discuss the possibilities.
Every area of the city qualifying for a block grant project has received one, except for the north side, Knox said.
The part of the north side that qualifies is the area around Franklin, Dillard and Ruffin streets, and it has many investment properties, Knox said. Officials are working with property owners to create a plan to improve homes there to submit for consideration of a block grant, he said.
“We’ve tried to go into as many neighborhoods in the city as possible (that qualify for a block grant) in a methodically, orderly fashion,” Knox said.
Those areas include Martinsville’s south side, as well as areas surrounding Cherry, Moss and Barton, and Massey and Endless streets, he said.
The city recently applied to the state for a $750,000 block grant on behalf of the New College Institute, which would use the funds toward construction of a new building on the Baldwin Block uptown. The project should qualify for the grant, officials have said, because the building is to house programs that train people for jobs in the city with Virginia’s highest unemployment rate.
People with ideas for block grant projects on the west side are welcome to contact him, he said.
“It’s not that we haven’t been trying” to make further improvements to the west side, Knox said. He noted that the state restricts cities to no more than $2 million to $2.5 million in ongoing block grant projects at any time.
“You can’t do everything for everyone all the time,” he said.