Leveraging federal dollars for local impact

Susie Kaeser

Federal programs are not faraway abstractions; they affect people we know and places we care about, like Cleveland Heights. They empower people, alleviate problems, generate jobs and strengthen communities. These benefits could disappear way too soon as Congress, in the name of deficit reduction, prepares to decimate domestic spending.

If cost-cutters have their way, one especially effective federal resource, the Community Development Block Grant program that gives local communities, flexible resources to address their priority concerns, could face extinction. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m fully aware that being antigovernment is in vogue. But it’s a bad idea. Save a buck, shred the fabric of a community? What is good about that?

Here is just one example of what is at stake:

I am on the board of the Home Repair Resource Center (HRRC), a 40-year-old Cleveland Heights nonprofit that works hand-in-hand with city government and homeowners to keep our wonderful old housing stock in good repair.

Because housing quality and housing values define the stability of a community, it is in the best interest of the public to make sure homeowners are able to respond when the roof leaks or the furnace fails. That’s where HRRC comes into the picture.  

Thanks to federal block grant funds that the city awards to HRRC, we have a staff that can help stressed homeowners who need to repair a major system that has failed in their house but for whom a $5,000 repair can be prohibitive. Failure to fix the roof or furnace is even more costly. Fortunately, a relatively small amount of financial assistance can solve the problem.

HRRC uses block grant funds to pay up to $1,500 of the repair cost, and then helps the owner secure a loan for the remainder by guaranteeing their loan with privately raised funds. This partnership keeps the homeowner responsible and in charge, helps them use their own resources, fixes the house, and adds value to the whole street.

During the last 40 years, more than 1,000 households have been helped – nearly a tenth of the houses in our community. In nearly every case, creative problem solving and less than $2,000 have made the difference. The patient and up-close approach that is the hallmark of HRRC involvement really works.

There is no backup solution if the federal funds are lost. Sadly, when we leave people out on a limb without support, we all lose.  

Why have our policymakers forgotten a national value – support for the common good?  

Susie Kaeser has been a resident of Cleveland Heights for more than 30 years. She is the former director of Reaching Heights and a current board member of the Home Repair Resource Center.

Read More on The Common Good
Volume 4, Issue 3, Posted 9:59 AM, 03.01.2011