By Anita Tillman, AMCorp International
Across the southeast, from Texas to Virginia, cities and towns overflow with ideas, hopes, needs, and dreams. Unfortunately, most find themselves wrestling with the realities of fragile infrastructure, an affordable housing crisis, population fluctuations, and little capacity to access the pots of federal funding at the end of the rainbow that can help bring needed relief to communities. Even preparing to apply for a federal grant may seem daunting at best, impossible at worst. While the promise of federal aid exists at historic levels, for those who have never applied for a federal grant, where do you start? What does it take to apply for these large funding pots and make the promise of a better community a reality?
Let us look deep in the heart of Texas – Killeen to be exact. With a population of a little over 160,000 residents, this city sits about seventy miles north of Austin and adjacent to Fort Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood) military base, which is the primary driver of the city’s economy. For 10 years, Killeen has seen rapid population increases driven by the presence of military families. This steady growth over the last decade and disinvestment in North Killeen has led to a lack of sufficient resources to support neighborhood revitalization. The city had the opportunity to apply for a $10 million “Pathways to Removing Obstacles to Housing (PRO Housing)” grant. If awarded, this grant will fund the implementation of a 10-year comprehensive housing strategy to address local housing needs by increasing affordable, energy-efficient housing through owner-occupied rehabilitation, rental housing development/preservation fund, anti-displacement strategies, equitable access, and blight mitigation and demolition.
Start with identifying partners.
Separated by only a few miles, the City of Killeen and Fort Cavazos recognized that while maintaining separate housing portfolios, their interdependence made a more compelling case for federal grant assistance to bolster their underserved community. In a letter of support for the grant, US Army Colonel Lakicia R. Stokes wrote, “Installation leadership recognizes the value of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) strategic goals of supporting underserved communities, ensuring access to, and increasing production of affordable housing, promoting homeownership, and advancing sustainable communities. As a priority geography, we stand ready to partner with the City of Killeen and HUD to advance these strategic goals so that Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families have access to quality, affordable housing meeting their needs in the City of Killeen, Bell County, and the Central Texas Region.”
Partnerships with mutually beneficial outcomes are key. Just like Killeen found a formidable ally in Fort Cavazos, many cities and towns should identify similar community-based organizations (CBOs) and entities to join forces with to improve outcomes when applying for federal grants.
Look for technical assistance.
Killeen is the story of the underdog. It is the tale of a small city facing a rising housing crisis and lacking the resources, institutional knowledge, or capacity to address the issues alone. Tiffanie McNair, Executive Director of Killeen’s Office of Community Development, knew navigating the road to a $10 million grant would be nearly impossible, so she enlisted help from colleague Edwin Revell, Executive Director of Development Services. Revell introduced McNair to Nick Deffley, who would become a powerful ally. Deffley serves as the Director of Federal Resources for the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network (SSDN), where he oversees the Local Infrastructure Hub (LIH) Cohorts Program that will provide a city a capacity grant of up to $30,000 in value of technical assistance for federal proposal development. LIH can provide applicants access to experts in grant strategy, engagement, technical exploration, and federal proposal development through the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Waverly Street Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. Killeen applied for the LIH capacity grant and learned quickly that they would receive the funds needed to be able to engage with Thomas Consulting Group (TCG), a team of federal proposal development experts deployed to help the city draft and submit a proposal to HUD for the $10 million Pro Housing funding.
“Having LIH step in and say we’re going to connect you with technical assistance that can guide you, support you, and get you to the finish line - without them, I really feel like looking at everything I had on my plate at the time, it would not have happened. It would have just been impossible,” said McNair.
In her first meeting with TCG’s CEO, Michelle Thomas, McNair, who had only been a resident of Killeen for five months, conveyed that there was a void in institutional knowledge, and she had done as much research as she could to communicate the housing need. TCG tapped into their resources to get housing needs data, demographics, rental unit availability, how units are being impacted by the Soldiers assigned to Fort Cavazos and created a comprehensive analysis of Killeen’s housing burden. Because of the LIH capacity grant, TCG provided the technical assistance needed to help the city assemble what McNair considers a strong application. The City Council was very encouraging and appreciative of what was developed on behalf of the city of Killeen.
Count the cost.
Federal funding is available at historic levels, and so is the assistance needed to apply for those funds, but at what cost? In the case of the LIH program, the cost is the time and effort it takes to fill out a three-page application requesting help with applying for grants aimed at realizing your community’s full potential to address climate impacts and build racial wealth equity. For Killeen, the cost of not seeking assistance to apply to HUD for $10 million in federal funding would have been unbearably high. Barriers to housing opportunities caused by outdated zoning and land use statutes would persist. There would be little chance of developing and preserving affordable housing. Infrastructure would continue to deteriorate, and the overall quality of life for a tremendously underserved community as well as Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families would decline.
Men and women in uniform have fought valiantly for the freedoms we enjoy as a nation. Through LIH, the City of Killeen refused to surrender these military families to the status quo and has instead assembled an army to go after the funding needed to give the underserved and America’s Armored Corps access to the quality of life they deserve.
“LIH is the friend and partner that you didn’t know you needed,” said McNair. “They are enthusiastic, they are professional, they are creative with how they could put together a proposal that represents your city and reflects who you actually are. I knew that we were with the right partner from day one.”
Application details and additional information about the Local Infrastructure Hub Cohorts program can be found on SSDN's website at https://www.southeastsdn.org/programs/ssdns-federal-programs/local-infrastructure-hub-cohorts/. For more information, contact Nick Deffley at email@example.com.